Rocket Ride

Kish and I were innocently driving back from Ottawa to Columbus today and had just passed from Pennsylvania into Ohio on I-90 when we came across this contraption.  I did a double-take when I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw what looked like a free-floating amusement park ride approaching from the rear.

The guy who was driving this rocket ride was wearing a Batman jacket and sunglasses, with no headcovering on a gray, drizzly day.  He was moving like a bat out of hell, even though the vehicle doesn’t look it would handle very well or be particularly crashworthy.  No doubt he wasn’t doing much smiling as he drove; with no windshield, he would even now be picking bug debris out of his teeth.

Kish says that apparently you can rent this gizmo for parties and cart a bunch of people around in the rear seats.  I think driving something that looks like it would fold up like an accordion in any kind of collision on a busy interstate is more excitement than I would want on a Saturday afternoon.

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Eurotrip 2011: Vienna

A public square in Vienna.

I only booked three nights in Vienna because someone told me it was ugly. I don’t remember who told me that, but the idea took root in my head. I imagined a bombed-out city of wide streets, awkward green spaces and glass office buildings, like the worst parts of Berlin and Hamburg.

Actually, Vienna was an exceptionally beautiful city, and I regretted not spending more time there. Maybe the person who misled me about Vienna held a personal grudge against the city because he was mugged there. Maybe he was thinking of another city that was ugly. Or, maybe I was mistaken and it was another city he said was ugly.

A surprisingly high percentage of Vienna’s center consists of beautiful baroque buildings, giving it an architectural uniformity almost equal to that of Paris. While walking through the crooked streets downtown, I often had a flashback to the scene in Amadeus in which Mozart drinks a bottle of wine while walking to his apartment past horse-drawn carriages and street-performers. The architecture in Vienna was so similar to that of the movie that I assumed it was filmed there – especially since it takes place in Vienna – but a look at the IMdB page shows that it was filmed in Prague, where I will be soon.

A typical beautiful building in Vienna.

The Stephansdom cathedral.

The Votivkirche, blocked by an unfortunate advertisement.

There are also a few magnificent Gothic buildings scattered about, including two cathedrals and a Rathaus. Unfortunately, all three of these wonderful buildings were undergoing renovations during my visit, and one of the cathedrals had an advertisement hanging rudely from it. I also stopped by the Secession center, an Art Nouveau building used as a meeting place by artists like Gustav Klimt who rebelled against the conservative establishment in Vienna’s art scene in the late 19th century.

The Secession building.

One of my favorite buildings in Vienna was Karlskirche, a baroque church framed by two triumphal columns inspired by Trajan’s column in Rome. According to Wikipedia, the columns illustrate scenes from the life of St. Charles. I think it’s very interesting, although probably not totally appropriate, that an architectural form originally used to trumpet the military exploits of an emperor is used to tell the story of a Christian saint.

Karlskirche.

My hostel – the Hostel Ruthensteiner – was wonderful, with a great kitchen and a beautiful courtyard with plenty of comfortable chairs. However, it became so crowded during breakfast and dinner-time that it was difficult to cook or meet people, simply because of a lack of space. Luckily, I already had a friend in the city. Dhika, the Indonesian student I met in Florence, is completing her Masters in Vienna, so she showed me around.

The day I arrived Dhika took me to the Schonbrunn palace, once the summer getaway for the Holy Roman Emperors, now surrounded by urban sprawl. It reminded me a lot of Versailles. We strolled through the gardens to the top of a hill with a great view of Vienna.

Schonbrunn

The last day of my stay was the first day of Donauinselfest, an annual rock concert held on an island in the Danube river. That night, Dhika and I took a train there to watch a German rap-rock group perform. They weren’t playing my kind of music, but they weren’t bad. I had a good time despite cutting my hand while attempting to open a bottle of beer with a key.

Donauinselfest

Later that night, back at the hostel, I was awoken by someone who seemed to have had too good of a time at the festival – one of my roommates was puking onto the floor by the window. Everyone in the 10-bed room seemed to wake up, but no one said anything as he heaved a few times and walked casually to his bed. I simply returned to sleep so that I would be well-rested for my bus ride to Budapest the next morning.

Eurotrip 2011: Hamburg and Munich

Eurotrip 2011: Berlin

Eurotrip 2011: Copenhagen

Eurotrip 2011: Bruges and Amsterdam

Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

Castles In The Land Up North

Kish and I have enjoyed a few very pleasant, albeit all too rainy, days in Ottawa at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.  As a result, we have a bit of an idea of what it would be like to live in a castle — because that is what the Chateau Laurier looks like.

One of the common rooms

With its turrets and grey stone facade, sitting majestically aside a canal, the Chateau Laurier is a feast for the eyes, inside and out.  The hotel is one of a number of striking Canadian hotels that were built in conjunction with the Canadian railway in an effort to boost tourism and railway travel.  The railroads spared no expense, and it shows in all of the rich and varied details of these amazing places.  Two years ago we stayed at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, another of those railway hotels, and it was equally extraordinary.  These hotels and many others currently are part of the Fairmont chain, and a quick look at their photos make me want to visit them all.

The view from our hotel room window

I love grand old hotels, and the Chateau Laurier definitely falls into that category.  The hotel is directly across the canal from the Canadian federal government buildings, and the view from the window in our room offers a commanding view of the Canadian Parliament.  The ceilings in the common rooms on the ground floor  seem almost impossibly high, and all of those rooms are uniquely decorated and well maintained.  The place reeks of history, and tradition, and recalls the days when teams of porters would cart steamer trunks through the bustling lobby while travelers made their lodging arrangements.

When you have a choice of hotels, why not select the hotel that lets you wallow for a day or two in the luxury of a long-lost era when travel was special?