Whoever You Are, I Want To Thank You

I know, I know.  I really should write more.  Too often, Charity is the only one updating this blog.  Let it be known that I’m not a complete slacker– just a little bit after I’m pau (finished) with work.  So on that subject…

As many of you know, I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work remotely.  For the last couple of years, this has not been an issue as we had stable domiciles with high speed broadband internet access.  We had a couple of minor roadbumps in Hawai`i but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with some elbow grease and/or creativity.  We’ve chosen our accomodations in Europe very carefully, always booking hotels that promised broadband internet, preferably WiFi (or W-LAN, as they call it here).  Amsterdam was no problem– we stayed in a hotel located in the heart of the business district, so WiFi was fast and easy.  Of course, my alias at work was disabled during that time, so I couldn’t access work, but that is a separate story not worth retelling here.  Since Amsterdam, we have had… challenges… in the area of consistent and accessible internet.

In Berlin, the hotel’s promised internet access was non-existent, so we hung out at a lot of cafes with free WiFi access.  Sweet.

In Prague, the first hotel had internet in the room… but only the wired kind which didn’t help with the itinerary-planning Charity needed to do while I was working.  So we hung out in the lobby for WiFi.  We moved to another hotel that promised in-room WiFi, but the signal was so weak, work was reeeeaaaaaally slooooooooow.  Ah well, at least I was getting things done.  One morning, I woke up super-motivated and got a bunch done before sightseeing (normally, I waited to work in the afternoon/evening) which turned out to be a good thing since the tool I use at work was taken down for “a day” for updates.  Yeah.  Think two-and-a-half days.  Good times.

When we got to Vienna, we were surprised to find that the budget hotel we were in actually had good WiFi we both could use.  Wow, great.  When the tool updates were finally done, I found I could access work quickly and efficiently.  But oh wait.  Now I have to update some other software (SQL Server Management Express… 2005 -> 2008… yeah, good times) to work with the updates the tool team made.  Holy moly.  Ok, updated my software… oh crud, now what??   Oh, the tool updates also crashed some of the networks at work.  Fun.  Oh, and the internet isn’t working right again.  Oh, there it is.  Working again.  Oh, no, my bad, it’s not…

By this time, you should appreciate how much time and research Charity invests in each and every hotel we book.  She has spent (literally) hours researching.  That said, there is only so much research that can be done beforehand– we really don’t know what to expect until we get there.  As you can imagine, it has been a source of some stress.

So when we booked the Snooze Hotel in Salzburg, we were sure we had a clear winner.  Opened last year, the Snooze is a budget, modern designer hotel.  In-room wireless internet is a key feature prominently advertised everywhere on the website with rave reviews from former guests on hotels.com and tripadvisor.  When we checked-in, it was everything we thought it would be.  Quiet, modern– really cool.  AND it had wireless internet in the room.  Sweet!!  So I login to work.  Oh crud.  Can’t login.  Try again.  Nope.  I recognize that error.  It means the router at the hotel does not support VPN Passthrough.  Translation:  I can’t login to work even though I have a killer quick signal.  *sigh*

We spent a good deal of time Monday afternoon wandering around Salzburg (including a long bus ride into the ‘burbs) looking for WiFi.  We went everywhere with our WiFi finder (read: IPod Touch) scanning the streets and alleys for open signals.  Even tried McDonalds which actually had free WiFi but again, no VPN Passthrough.  Finally, we had to give up for the day and headed back to the hotel out in the non-touristy part of Salzburg.  Wandered around the neighborhood just for kicks, and whaddaya know??  There was a tiny, weak signal named “NETGEAR” near the bus stop.  Immediately, I tried my work computer, and holy moly, the dang thing worked!  I then proceeded to hang out on the corner near the bus stop, working until my computer died, ignoring stares and nodding at the car full of teen boys who honked and waved at me.  Got back to the room after dark and finished up e-mails which don’t require VPN.

After sightseeing today, Charity decided to accompany me while I worked the corner again (haha), but I just couldn’t let her be subjected to that.  I tried finding more discreet spots that still had WiFi, but it just wasn’t happening.  Finally, I decided to just try to find the source of the signal, and lo and behold– it was near a quiet pedestrian/bike bridge over a really neat stream.  We still got stares but not nearly as many as from the busy street.  And we got to watch a family of ducks swim up and down the stream.  We watched an older lady feed the ducks, Charity finished her book while I worked, and we enjoyed watching the sun light the tops of the trees down the stream.  Yeah, it was pretty low stress.

working the corner again...

working the corner again...

on the pedestrian / bike bridge - no, there were no seats...

on the pedestrian / bike bridge - no, there were no seats...

Instead of focusing on the negatives here, I’d like to thank whoever’s signal I’ve been borrowing for the last two days, the same signal I’ll need to borrow again tomorrow and possibly the day after.  As Geggy Tah sang, whoever you are, I want to thank you.  Thank you.  Danke.  Domo.  Mahalo.  Thank you for opening your signal to complete strangers.  Thank you for not locking down your VPN Passthrough so schmucks like me can hang out on that bridge behind you all evening, working.  I really, truly appreciate it.  You’re making me re-think my attitude towards locking down my own signal at home…

And so, here is Geggy Tah, singing my one line.  Yeah, he’s talking about traffic, but essentially, the sentiment is the same.  Danke.

Salzburg: Mozart’s town

Today was a day for low-key touring and lots of picture-taking.  As I mentioned before, the town is absolutely stunning with mountains pressing right up to it and even becoming a part of the architecture.  Many of the buildings in the old town date from the 1400s, so the wandering was a lot of fun.

Originally stables and a fountain for horses

Originally stables and a fountain for horses

A good investment

A good investment

The Hohensalzburg Fortress dominates the skyline.  It was built in the 1400s to protect the town from invaders but appeared so impenetrable that it was never attacked – a good investment indeed.  It was abandoned as a living space in 1500.

Everything is so much older than what we traditionally experience in the US – it has been a humbling experience to see the sites here and understand the gravity of the history behind them.

Even the beer has history – everywhere we’ve gone, I’ve tried the cheap, local beer (almost the same price as a coke) and have enjoyed most of them.  Okay, so Pilsner Urquell in Prague was a little “skunky” tasting for me but that’s a pretty good record with all I’ve tried.  In Salzburg, Stiegl Bier was originally brewed in 1492 — now that’s pretty amazing!

O...M...G...

O...M...G...

Don’t let all the beauty fool you though, there is graffiti in Salzburg too – not nearly as much as Vienna and no where near the covering found in Berlin – but this one was too good not to snap.

Mozart town...they should just rename it already...

Mozart town...they should just rename it already...

Salzburg, originally famed for its extensive salt-mining operations which allowed it to thrive for a millenia is now known for being the birthplace and home for 25 years of Mozart.  Everything Mozart permeates this town though at least there aren’t as many people dressed up as him as there were in Vienna.

Our guidebook, Europe Through the Back Door by Rick Steves, listed two main venues to learn more about Mozart.  It indicated that the birthplace of Mozart museum was not worth the euro but recommended the Mozart Haus where he lived with his family for many years.  Since I first fell in love with Salzburg as a budding musician in middle school, I have wanted to make my pilgrimage to his home so we paid our 7 euro each and excitedly entered the home.  Unfortunately, I have to say that it simply was not worth either the time or the money.  The tour was lacking in information and did not provide any real interaction with the musician or his craft.  I feel like I learned more about him from the Haus der Musik in Vienna.  I would have to tell people that if you should ever visit the town, you should enjoy the sites and the ambiance but skip the Mozart Haus.  The free brass band concert in the park that we enjoyed afterward was worth way more than the 0 euro it cost to experience it!

Tomorrow – off to the cheesy Sound of Music tour!!

Wifi, wifi everywhere … and then it’s gone…

We left Vienna today and traveled to Salzburg – through some beautiful, idyllic towns with rolling hills and bucolic farmland.  Vienna was fantastic – gentile and refined and amazingly there were wifi cafes everywhere – especially in the neighborhood where we stayed (this comes into play later).  We saw some amazing architecture and enjoyed the many hours spent walking throughout the town.  Here are some of the more catchy pics from Vienna (Wien in German):

love the lily pads

love the lily pads

St. Stephen's Cathedral - built with Roman pagan temple stones...magnificant

St. Stephen's Cathedral - built with Roman pagan temple stones...magnificant

Gothic interior of St. Stephen's cathedral

Gothic interior of St. Stephen's cathedral

Monument to the Plague victims built to appease God and spare the remaining citizens of Vienna

Monument to the Plague victims built to appease God and spare the remaining citizens of Vienna

When we arrived in Salzburg, we were immediately struck by its combination of natural and man-made beauty.  Gorgeous and it reminded us of North Bend, WA (if you know the area) with the way the mountains abutted the town.  Unfortunately and a little fortunate as well, we spent several unintentional hours wandering around the city of Salzburg today searching for wifi access.  You see, we were absolutely certain that our newly built hotel that guaranteed wifi in the room would work well with Maylene’s work.  As it turns out, the wifi works but doesn’t allow VPN pass-through.  This means she can’t work in the room.  We struck out soooo many times in our search — never successful, even trying to piggyback onto individual’s personal connections.  When we finally got back to the hotel room, exhausted and frustrated from the search, Maylene found a signal on the corner of the road about a block from the hotel.  Only problem is that she had to sit outside facing the road for half of the night working and being constantly stared at, because really, how weird would that look?  Especially in an older town like Salzburg!

We’ll be sight-seeing tomorrow until Maylene has to go to work again – I hope we can find somewhere more comfortable for her to work – pics will follow.  I was far too exasperated to really thoroughly enjoy my walk around Salzburg nor to take any pics but hopefully we’ll be in better spirits tomorrow.

Until then…a hui hou….

Dining with MJ and the Habsburgs

We had a fantastic dinner tonight at the City Grill in a suburban mall in Vienna.  Yes, a mall.  But a mall like none you’ve seen in the US.  It has a little bit of everything, lots of restaurants both fast and fancy as well as clothing, supermarkets, computer stores, and even a radio station.  The food was great (lasagna and provenciale pasta) but we spent the time there listening to the Greatest Hits of Michael Jackson with much of the clientele rocking out to the tunes.  It has been like this for most of the sit-down dining experiences we have had since arriving in Europe.  They definitely had a thing for the King of Pop over here.  The weird thing is that it doesn’t exactly get old – it just becomes funny.

Anywho – we spent a long day with the Hapsburg dynasty at  Hofburg Palace.  The first part of the tour took us through the Silver collection where they displayed the many, many, many, many different collections of dinnerware and silverware — I mean, really, how many different types of place settings does one really need?  At the informal dining room of Emporer Franz II where the family gathered for meals, there were at least 5 different glasses and as well that many different knives and forks used for service.  Craziness…

Not sure if this one is big enough...

Not sure if this one is big enough...

I kept hearing the phrase “Damn, it feels good to be a gangster” in my head as I looked at all the treasured booty the Hapsburg’s acquired over the years.

yes, yes it is good to be Emporer

yes, yes it is good to be Emporer

I tell you – if the museum tells you that the tour should take x time, Maylene and I will surely take 2x-3x to complete it – we tend to read and look at just about everything in there and have been known to close down a museum or two in our time.

coronation cloak...yes, I believe this means it was worn just once...

coronation cloak...yes, I believe this means it was worn just once...

We visited the Imperial Apartments and the Treasury.  Morbid highlights include pieces of the actual crucifixion cross and the spear that pierced Jesus.  Oh yeah – and the pieces encased in gold are supposed to be the nail that went into his right hand.  The other items in the gold case are seals of approval by Pope Innocent (we think the VIII but can’t entirely remember from the audioguide that we were listening to).  None of the descriptions were in English so it could be a little challenging to keep up with it all.  Thought you guys might find these interesting.  I thought it most fascinating that all were collected by the Habsburg family – ranging in time from the 1100s to the 1600s (yes, just a few years after the actual action took place)…   😉

Piece of The Cross...complete with nail hole...

Piece of The Cross...complete with nail hole...

The gold piece in the middle was, of course, added later...

The gold piece in the middle was, of course, added later...

Sorry – the scaling and pics definitely didn’t look like this in the editing page.  Forgive the erratic placement…

Nail from Cross with seal of approval from Pope Innocent

Nail from Cross with seal of approval from Pope Innocent VIII (?)

The Importance of Updated Guidebooks

We spent much of this afternoon trying to take a self-guided tram ride throughout the center ring surrounding Vienna. According to our 2008 guidebook, there would be two different tram lines that would circle the city, close to interesting monuments and museums to aid the visitor in getting their bearings around town. We took the one most recommended by the book and started off. I read from the guidebook as we went and got to about the fourth entry when I started to notice that I could not match the book with anything I was seeing – including road names. We stubbornly refused to think anything was wrong though, continuing as if the next site would be just around the corner. It was not. At the end of the line, we waited the 5 minutes with the tram driver and then returned back the way we came. Determined to finish this self-guided tour with our already paid for 72-hour public transit pass, we jumped on the other recommended tram — only to find out that it too did not actually circle the city but went out of it and then back in, making the guidebook moot and irrelevant. As it turns out (we found out later) the city decided that so many people were taking advantage of the public transit to do this kind of sightseeing, that they have since added a Ring Tram exclusively to go along these destinations. Yes, it does cost extra. By the time we figured all of this out, we both had to use the bathroom and decided to return to the hotel so Maylene could get some more work in. We had a good time anyway though and enjoyed the Starbucks we found immensely – it was sooo hot that all I wanted was some ice coffee. Of course this was our first visit to Starbucks since leaving the US and they don’t have ice coffee over here – bummer dude. We enjoyed our iced bevy anyway and especially watching the drug deals go down just outside the Starbucks in the metro station – that is until the cops broke them up. I tell you, drug deals just seem to look the same everywhere you are. Coffee + People Watching = bliss!

Well-Preserved Prague

We are suffering in Vienna with no a/c but at long last we have reliable and consistent internet access. This is very appreciated. We arrived yesterday evening but have mainly been at the hotel so Maylene could try to get some work done after a series of access issues and tool revisions that has made her pretty far behind. We’re heading out this afternoon to see more of the city proper. In the meantime, I thought I’d post about Prague (Praha as the locals call it).

This city had absolutely stunning architecture – highlighted best in late afternoon/just around sunset when the light bounced off of the gold trim of the buildings in amazing ways.

Across the square from our first hotel...

Across the square from our first hotel...

Never bombed in the world wars, it retained the Gothic and Medeival architecture throughout most of the city center. In fact, the hotel we stayed in initially (had to change because of internet problems) was originally built in the 1200s.  On a side note, there was a Hard Rock Cafe downstairs (lol – just across the street from the fountain built in 1560).  Too funny – oh yeah and better still was the bar/club Coyotes next door that tried really hard to imitate Coyote Ugly infamy.  Good times.

We made it to our first European castle in Praha.  It is said to be the largest in Europe sprawling for a really large distance on a hill overlooking the city – great aerial views.

Our very first European castle experience!

Our very first European castle experience!

The castle at night from Charles Bridge

The castle at night from Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge was amazing too – started in the 1300s, it was the only bridge connecting the castle to the city for a very long time.

As mentioned earlier, we did have to move hotels due to spotty internet access and found ourselves near Wenceslas Square (below).  Named after “good king Wenceslas” of Christmas carole lore, this area was definitely less touristy and you could begin to see how the locals lived – at least a little.

Architecture from "New Town"

Architecture from "New Town"

oh so sexy...

oh so sexy...

Unknowingly, we found ourselves in a bit of an after-dark seedy neighborhood filled with peep shows and go-go clubs.  Check out the “limo” below that will kindly pick you up and bring you home from the club.

Off to do some sight-seeing in Vienna.  Gotta love the public transit systems in these towns.  They are so easy to use and so very convenient.  No taxis have been taken yet and it’s not even a goal of this trip, so you know the transit systems must be easy – yes – even in Czech.

Combustible Berlin

Sorry for the radio silence – we’ve had intermittent internet access since leaving Amsterdam and when we do have it I end up spending most of my time searching for a hotel room in the next city or catching up on personal business.  Anywho – we’re getting ready to leave Prague tomorrow but I’ll back-up a minute to tell you about Berlin.

Yummm... it was actually pretty tasty

Yummm... it was actually pretty tasty

Berlin was really interesting – our hotel didn’t have the internet it promised so we had to punt and spend time at several cafes with wifi access.  Check out the Aloha mango-lime lemonade we had at one of them – the ad for the drink was what sealed the deal and made us spend some time there.

Onward, oh Goddess of Victory

Onward, oh Goddess of Victory

The touristy sections of the city were so very fascinating.  We toured the memorial monuments, German History Museum, and Gemaldegalerie art museum.

The Brandenburg gate has a very interesting history.  If you turn around from where this picture was taken, you’ll see a Starbucks (lol) – oh and the fancy hotel where Michael Jackson dangled Blanket.  The best graffiti seen from the train in Berlin “Rest in Heaven MJ”.  It made me laugh for some reason.  I think I’d had just about all the Michael Jackson tributes that I could handle at that point.

The symbolic stones below are of 96 politicians who were murdered by Hitler in concentration camps because they tried to stop his campaign of horror and death in its infancy.  If only they’d succeeded.

Hitler thought they protested too much....

Hitler thought they protested too much....

Expansive and evocative memorial to Holocaust victims

Expansive and evocative memorial to Holocaust victims

This is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.  The controversy is that the cemetery-like memorial for Jewish people does not also specifically commemorate the other victims of Hitler’s regime.    On that note, the Homo memorial was right across the street.  I’m shocked that we forgot to take a picture but it was basically a large cement block just slightly askew and there was a window that you could look in.  Against the back wall of the box, they were playing a movie of two men kissing, over and over on this weird kissing loop.  Hmmm… interesting.

Such a touching memorial to the soldiers and holocaust victims

Such a touching memorial to the soldiers and holocaust victims

This memorial is for the unknown soldiers of WWII and the unknown victims of the Holocaust who fell in concentration camps.  As we passed by small towns on our way to Prague, I couldn’t help but wonder how many might have housed these death camps.

We stayed in the Eastern part of Berlin – just out of the tourist zone and into a real neighborhood.  I have to say that Berlin (so far) has had the greatest number of drunk and disorderlies lurking about on the streets.  I’ve never seen so many people drinking openly (trams, metro, walking down the street)…  Most of the neighborhood was covered with graffiti – not necessarily good quality graffiti either.  Check it out Ma – the kindergarten’s in Berlin have graffiti too!  … okay … so at least yours wasn’t this bad:

Nothing says "I love learning" quite like this

Nothing says "I love learning" quite like this

Berlin has been our least favorite city so far – of course, grain of salt, we didn’t have any internet access in the hotel making life a little miserable but still.  We tried putting our finger on what we didn’t like about the city and really only came to one strong conclusion.  There was an underlying, intangible sense of tension throughout the city, both in the tourist areas and in the normal living areas.  It gave a feeling of combustibility – like the city could just erupt or go-off any minute.  We never really saw too many visual signs of this and can’t empirically prove the statement but it just felt that way.  We were happy to depart for Prague and enjoyed our 5 hour train ride.  It’s a great time to read up on the city you are about to live in for a while.

Amazing Amsterdam…

We are getting ready to head out to Berlin tomorrow and have spent some time reflecting upon the city of AMS and just how much we have enjoyed our time here.

The Heineken Experience was most excellent – complete with two free samples! 😉 Check out the e komo mai on the wall — too cool!

We were even individually bottled!

We were even individually bottled!

liking Heineken more and more...

liking Heineken more and more...


We also enjoyed our time canal biking… or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves! 😉 We kind of did get lost but quickly found and decided that two hours of it was just enough.

ummmm...we're both supposed to fit in there?  just checking....

ummmm...we're both supposed to fit in there? just checking....

can it really be that old?

can it really be that old?

they call it canal biking - not as relaxing as one might think it would be when you're trying to navigate!

they call it canal biking - not as relaxing as one might think it would be when you're trying to navigate!

Like trailers on the water...but less trashy

Like trailers on the water...but less trashy

We love the transportation system, the walk-friendly traffic, the (mostly) friendly people, and the pretty decent food. Prices are a little higher than Seattle/Honolulu for in-house seated dining. Service is a little slow overall but excellent when you get it. Anywho – we’re building a table to track a few characteristics of each major city that we visit. We’ll post it soon – I’ve gotta figure out how to do it. Heehee…

You’ve gotta love a town where bicycle = SUV and there’s no social pressure to change that. Beautiful…

The Quest for Anne Frank’s House

So we got a bit of a late start yesterday– sleeping in super late and re-grouping just in time to finally head out for the day at 15:00 (3pm, c’mon people).  We decided to try the Stop/Go bus since its route goes by the Anne Frank house and our unlimited public transport pass hadn’t expired yet.  We took the usual #5 tram into the Amsterdam Centraal Station, and finally got around to snagging this quintessential Dutch parking garage…

Parking Garage, Amsterdam Style

Parking Garage, Amsterdam Style

Yes, those are rows and rows of bicycles…

another angle

another angle

The prevalence of bikes here is amazing, but that’s definitely another post.

From here, there was some “discussion” as to where to catch the Stop/Go.  One of us (you guess who) thought we should go stand by where all the other buses were to wait while the other one thought we should walk the route and flag it down.  We ended up doing the latter while multitasking brunner (breakfast at 1630 ;-)) since we hadn’t eaten yet.  Of course, we quickly got lost, completely leaving the bus route.  We wandered around the side streets and quiet canals before finally settling on a place to get some grub.  Of course, after we’d ordered and found a place to sit in the sun, we discovered they were closing in less than 15 minutes.  Hope we didn’t get any special spit sauce in the food. 😉

We then set-off to get un-lost and find Anne Frank’s house.  We found we were definitely not on the tourist maps anymore but found this spot…

Where are we again...?

Where are we again...?

From there, we kind of just backtracked along empty streets parallel to the crowded ones and eventually ran into the right street.  We walked along the Prinsengracht canal dodging bikes, cars, and cafes and saw some cool houseboats. We also laughed as two Stop/Go buses passed us a couple blocks away from our destination. Good times.

Now we have been debating everyday whether or not to make reservations for some of these tourist attractions. I remember hearing that the Anne Frank house was a reservation recommendation, but we decided to chance it anyway. Of course, when we arrived, we were greeted with this…

Anne Frank House... and its line

Anne Frank House... and its line

Yeeeeaaaaah… so we decided that after walking for an hour looking for the place, we didn’t feel like waiting in line for just as long to be depressed. Instead, we chilled on the other side of the canal and thought about the book and contemplated her life and the hardships of her family. Of course, the house obviously looks different from her time because, really, how effective would the hiding be if you had to walk up that glass-windowed spiral staircase?? [why yes, yes, we are sick and wrong…]

Rijksmuseum et al…

Today we visited a few museums.  The Rijksmuseum was really great.  Unfortunately, however, it was under renovation – in some ways good because it wasn’t overwhelming with information but rather, just enough.  It related the history of the Dutch people through the artwork of its more famous artists.

We enjoyed our jump-on, jump-off tram pass and used it more judiciously than we previously had been.  We’re getting to know the city and love many aspects of it.

gorgeous archway at Rijksmuseum...great afternoon light.

gorgeous archway at Rijksmuseum...great afternoon light.

We also enjoyed the Sex Museum.  Yes, it was well done and fairly tasteful.  Yes – it will show you everything you could ever imagine related to sex.  Pornography from the 1800s, mannequins, personal photos from the 1950s — a million photo ops – but we were too chicken to pose for them for fear they might be used against us later.  😉  Good times though.  Come on, use your imagination!

We were hassled  by a bum for the first time.  Maylene held her ground and didn’t let him get on her nerves, it was funny.  Tomorrow – off to depression with the Anne Frank museum…  yes – quite a turn from the sex museum…

oh yeah — and the Heinekin over here really does taste better than in the states – and it’s the same price as a coke or a latte usually — fun!  Ah yes – and the kuidje cones (soft serve) – are to die for… delish!  Nothing fancy, just plain goodness!

Oh yeah, and if I hear a Michael Jackson song again anytime soon, I think I’ll lose it!