Monday, 29 October 2007

Rome Gone? Bear With Me...

...I'm not altogether satisfied with the post, and while editing and adding photos, I started getting bX-6tj0s5 error messages during attempted image uploads.

Soon as it's fixed, we'll continue...

Monday, 22 October 2007

Intermission: Mad Clowns

So I went to the National Concert Hall on Friday, where the RTE National Symphony Orchestra gave a performance consisting of Beethoven's 4th Symphony, a passage from "Tristan Und Isolde" by Wagner, and 'Tod Und Verklarung" by Richard Strauss.

Live classical recitals would not have been high on my list of things to see, but my Dad had a spare ticket and I said 'Why not?'

It was a highly enjoyable evening, although at one point during the Wagner I almost expected Elmer Fudd to come on and sing "Weturn My Wove". Sadly, this didn't happen, and I went for a couple of pints with my father before he caught his bus home.

I was on my own way home when, feeling hungry, I stopped into Eddie Rocket's Diner on South Anne St. for a bite.

Eddie's is an American-style diner with a '50s motif, and the food is pretty good. At this hour, just before closing time for the pubs and opening time for nightclubs, there weren't many customers, and so I got my food quickly enough.

It was while I was eating that I noticed a commotion at the door.

The bouncer, a large solid guy, was stopping some clown from entering, and the guy wasn't happy. He looked drunk, and was doing everything he could to get past the bouncer, who gently but firmly kept pushing him back from the door.

It was almost comic.

The thing is, when I said clown, I meant it.

This guy had the whole rig - green wig, red nose, whiteface, harlequin suit, big funny shoes, the works.

The wig came off, the clown was hopping mad, and the comedy was gone. People were trying to leave but weren't sure they could get out safely. Fear of assault with a rubber chicken can give pause to even the mightiest of men.

But the clown's attention was fully locked on the bouncer who, unfazed in the slightest, was having none of him.

One of the waitresses was about to take her break but was afraid to leave, so I, the mightiest of men, ran interference on my way out. The clown didn't bother us (just as well for him), and I said there'd probably be a cop along soon, so she'd be okay getting back in later.

Suitably reassured, we parted ways and I headed for home.

Sure enough, two cops appeared around the corner, and I went over.

"Gentlemen," I said, to get their attention, "you didn't by any chance get a call about a mad clown?"

I must have been grinning, because they looked at each other, then at me, no doubt wondering if I was having a laugh, or drunk, or both.

"No, where?" said one, grinning himself.

"Eddie Rocket's," I said, pointing back the way I'd come. "He's giving the bouncer a bit of grief about not getting in."

"Really? Is he still there?" said the other cop, also cracking a smile. He sounded almost eager.

"Oh yes," I said. "You can't miss him - big shoes, red nose..."

But they were gone, obviously in a hurry. It was going to look good on the night's report - maybe he'd resist...

Nobody likes a clown.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Things To Do In Vienna When You're Dead...

With typical German efficiency, my train to Vienna left Berlin on time, and I looked forward to my first night's sleep aboard a train.

Shouldn't have been surprised, then, when I only managed a couple of hours around 3am. This, I believe, was largely due to the unevenness of the track at irregular intervals, as there seemed to be many cross-tracks and a lot of bumping about.

But anyway, I arrived in Vienna tired but optimistic and headed from the Ostbahnhof to the Sudbahnhof to drop off my luggage and go explore Harry Lime's city.

Like Berlin, Vienna has a decent public transport system, and I managed to find my way to the city centre without too much difficulty. My carefully-planned, er, plan called for a bus tour of the city followed by lunch followed by a quick visit to whichever of the local attractions was within my time limit - my train to Rome was due to leave at 7pm.

Sounds easy enough. However, without map or guidebook I found myself totally lost and unable to find where the tours started from. A couple of buses went by, but no luck. The local Hilton Hotel was able to supply a map, however, and using it I eventually found my way to the Vienna State Opera House in Herbert Von Karajan Platz.

As a side note - Herbert Von Karajan is widely regarded as having been one of the leading conductors of the 20th Century, and led the Berlin Philharmonic for decades, both before and after WWII, as well as conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and directing the Viennese State Opera.
But you knew that.


From this point I was able, finally, to take a two-hour tour (at high speed, in some cases) of Vienna and its highlights, even passing the station from where I would leave for Rome later on.

If I had given it more thought I probably would have planned it better, because a day in Vienna doesn't do it justice. The overwhelming impression I came away with was that it was like Cameron Frye's house -

"It's very beautiful and very cold, and you're not allowed to touch anything."

Tired and defeated, I headed for the station, had good pizza and a cold beer, and boarded a train for Rome.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Meanwhile, In Berlin...

Sat., Oct. 6th:

I strolled around the Ku'damm and was suitably impressed by it. It's a shopping playground for the very wealthy, with stores devoted to all of the well-known designer labels (except Prada, for some reason - sorry, Renée), each with its own doorman/security guard to welcome/repel the welcome/unworthy.

There being nothing there for me, I made my way to Wittenbergplatz and KaDeWe.

KaDeWe, short for Kauf Des Westes, claims to be the biggest department store in Germany, and possibly in Europe.

I wouldn't be surprised. It's as big as, if not bigger than Macy's in New York, so that should put it in perspective. One whole floor is devoted to food and drink of every kind and origin, and there are counters at which one can sample the various dishes on display.

Every city should have one.

After spending a couple of hours and a few Euro on some food and DVDs, I left and headed for the (ahem) Kaiser Wilhelm II Gedachtnis Kirche, on Hardenbergplatz.

This is the unreconstructed ruin of a chapel built before WWI for the then Kaiser, which was largely destroyed in WWII. Unlike much of the surrounding area, it was not restored after the war, but preserved in its present condition as a reminder of the horrors of war.


The building next to it is more recent, built as a modern counterpoint. It's almost entirely constructed using lead glass bricks which, on a sunny day, are said to give a beautiful lighting effect within.

Sadly, it was closed the day I was there so I can't comment.

The other side of the square houses the Europa Centre, a modest shopping mall with restaurants and craft shops, as well as Saturn, part of a large German chain of electrical goods stores. Sort of like Dixons, HMV and Power City all rolled into one (non-Irish readers insert local equivalents here).


After a little more exploring, I found myself at a sign pointing to the Panorama Lounge on the 20th floor. That'd be just beneath the Mercedes-Benz star.

For me this meant one thing: British Intelligence HQ, West Berlin, as anyone who has seen 'The Quiller Memorandum' will recall. I thought this part of the Europa Centre was offices, and thus not open to the public, but for 6 Euro I could take the elevator up to where Alec Guinness looked out over the city and sent George Segal off on his mission across the Wall.


The view from the lounge is indeed panoramic, and largely unobstructed. Worth a visit, should one find oneself in Berlin.

After a few more photos, it was back to the hotel. Hadn't the energy to go out again, so I watched a James Bond movie in German instead. Sounded like Roger Moore did his own voice dubbing, but I can't be certain.

Sun, Oct. 7th:

What do you do when you've spilled coffee all over the only pair of jeans you brought with you, the hotel doesn't have a weekend cleaning service, and the shops don't open on Sunday?

Despair.

I won't bore you with the details - suffice to say it left stains in embarrassing places and leave it at that.

I changed into less casual attire and, determined to make the best of my last day in Germany, headed for Alexanderplatz, where, as it turned out, C&A saved my life and sartorial self-image. Turns out shops were opening on Sunday after all, it being the run-up to Christmas, and I managed to find what I needed.

I took a few photos of the train station (The Bourne Supremacy) for my brother, then wandered for a bit before returning to the hotel to check out.


I had a few hours to kill, so I spent them in the hotel bar watching Spurs 'lose' 2-2 to Liverpool (threw away a Robbie Keane 2-goal lead) and drinking the local pilsner.

The game over, I grabbed my luggage and headed for the station, bidding Berlin and Germany a fond farewell.

Next time: The train to Vienna, the city of Vienna, and leaving Vienna.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Previously on Captain Incredible - Hero of Neptune:

Stressed out...

Need a holiday - badly...


Berlin and Rome with a brief stop in Vienna.


So how did it go?
Read on...

Wednesday, October 3rd:


Didn't sleep previous night, because I had to be up at 3:00am, so I was tired and borderline cranky by the time the taxi arrived at 4:00. But I kept it to myself and approached the day with enthusiasm.

I have a Gil Elvgren 'page-a-day' calendar, and before leaving the house, I turned the page. October 3rd's pic was of a young lady sitting on a steamer trunk in the rain, umbrella up. Later I would come to regard this as an omen.

Got to the airport at 4:20 am, and headed for check-in. The guy at the desk looked at my ticket, then at me, then back at the ticket.
"What time does the flight take off?" I asked, unable to recall precisely.
"Last Wednesday" he replied.

"No, I'm flying out this morning," I explained, thinking one of us hadn't heard properly.


You can't imagine the surprise when he showed me how my ticket had been booked for Sept. 26th, one week previous. I still have no idea how that happened.

"You'll have to change the ticket at the desk over there when it opens at 5:00," he told me. "There'll be a charge, but it shouldn't be much."

So I waited for the ticket desk to open, where I explained what had happened with my reservation. The lady at the desk was sympathetic, and only charged me €182.50 for a new ticket.


The plane was not full, and I had a whole row to myself. Two hours and an airline breakfast got me to Berlin without further incident.
I took the S-Bahn (overground light rail) to Alexanderplatz and a U-Bahn (underground) to Stadtmitte, and was checked into my hotel by 12:00.

This is what the room looked like, in case anyone's interested:
Lay on bed briefly (just to test it, mind) and woke up at 6:30pm.

I took a walk around the immediate area - Friedrichstrasse, Unter Den Linden, Potsdamer Platz. Strange to think I was staying in what used to be East Berlin. It's undergone an extraordinary degree of revitalisation since the Wall came down, to bring it up to par with the other half of the city, and rebuilding is still in progress along areas where the Wall used to be.

The day I arrived, October 3rd, is the anniversary of the day the Wall fell, and thus a holiday in Germany. I headed for the Brandenburg Gate, but that area was cordoned off for some sort of rock concert or something and only ticketholders were getting through.
Two young women spotted each other at 50 meters and ran to each other with squeals and hugs - you'd swear the wall had only just come down.

I went back to my hotel and switched on the TV - CNN says there's a rail strike coming in Berlin if talks between unions and management aren't successful.
I'm travelling by train to Vienna on Sunday - this could be a problem.

Thurs, Oct 4th:


Almost interrupted by housekeeping while in the shower - could have been embarrassing.


After breakfast, took a bus tour of the city to try and plan what to see over the next few days.

Visited the Deutsches Historisches Museum - a thoroughly fascinating place, presenting the history of Germany from Roman times to the present day, chronologically.


The history of the period 1930-1945 is extensive, yet presented in an unbiased fashion. There's a lot of emphasis on German day-to-day life during the war, with the equivalent patriotic posters exhorting citizens to buy war bonds and collect scrap metal, etc., not something one normally sees in historical studies of the period. Strange to see children's toys, newspapers, movie posters, etc., from that time...


Back to hotel for rest and a beer, then off to find something to eat. I found an Australian joint in the Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz and had a ribeye steak and a couple of pints of Fosters - ripper!


Fri, Oct 5th:
Went to the Hauptbahnhof, or central rail station, to find out about the rail strike.
Turns out it was just a three-hour stoppage but could lead to more. A
s I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to visit the Bundestag, the German seat of government. It's open to the public and admission is free, so the queue is usually long.


Here's a photo:
The queue was considerably shorter when I joined it, but still took an hour and twenty minutes to get in. This is because they only allow groups of about fifty at a time to pass through security, and wait until such a number has left before allowing more in. But once you get in, you can go to the roof, and the Dome.

Which I did.
From within the dome there's a panoramic view of Berlin. Two spiral walkways (one up, one down) ensure a smooth flow of traffic, unless children are involved. Fortunately I didn't trip over any, so that was okay.

Followed signs to the Brandenburg Gate, only 350m away, and had coffee and danish at Starbucks on the Pariser Platz, saving my weary feet. The usual tourist stuff, but also sparrows - many sparrows. With scarcely a pigeon to be seen, these little guys hopped from table to table looking for crumbs - cheeky as hell, also, and totally unafraid.
Later - went back to Corroborree, that Australian place, for Thai Curry and a beer, before going to see The Bourne Ultimatum in the cinema next door. It was shown in the original dialogue, which is just as well because my German is poor - I get lost when the words have more than four syllables and capital letters in the middle.

A couple of tourists thought it would be fun to join in with the actors and adlib some comedy, but that was put a stop to by some locals pretty quickly.

Sat, Oct. 6th:

I've decided I don't like Berlin's public transport system.

It's fast, efficient, clean and always punctual, so why, you may ask?

It's the map. There are two services - the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, both of which are represented on the same map. The map is printedwithout a full legend differentiating the two services, in a size that includes a lot of small print.

My eyes hurt, and so do my feet.

Today I'm heading for the Kurfurstendamm and Alaexanderplatz, both at opposite ends of the same U-line. Should make things a bit easier.

Tune in next time to learn what happened next...

Monday, 15 October 2007

Rest Easy, I'm Back...

Yes indeed, back from my travels with many deeds and adventures to recount.
But not right now, because I have to get the words in order.
Perhaps tomorrow...

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

There Now Follows A Brief Intermission...

...while I take a short holiday.

I'm flying out to Berlin at 6:30am tomorrow, which means I have to be at the airport by 4:30, which means I have to be up at 3:00.

Damn.

So I've got 5 days in Berlin, then it's by train to Rome via Vienna, returning the week after next.

So I'll be off the air for a while unless I find an internet cafe somewhere and - well, maybe not...

I'll have plenty to report when I get back on the 14th, so remember to tune in again next time.

Guten Nacht, Buona Notte,

Bob