Archive for May, 2009

Berliner Dom

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

My time in Berlin was brief, but it was enough time to take in a good bicycle tour and learn more about its history. There was so much to see and so little time. My day of wandering took me to the Reichstag and the Berliner Dom. I spent a few hours in the cathedral just enjoying the atmosphere and exploring all the small details inside. Absolutely beautiful.

Berlin is definitely a place I’d like to visit again.

The Reichstag in Berlin

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Budapest

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The plan was to stay in Budapest for just a few days.

I stayed for a few more.

Caving under Budapest

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I found myself wedged between two rocks unable to turn my head around to look around. I pulled myself forward inch by inch. I could only see the shoe soles of the Australian ahead of me, blurred by my breath in the cold cave. We all emerged from the tiny hole in the rock, tired and sweaty.


Our guide, Laszlo, asked us all to turn off our headlamps for a moment and we all sat in a dark and total silence.

Top of the bell tower in Split, Croatia

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

The warning was ominous: Climb the bell tower at your own risk! And just below: 10 kroons. For a couple of bucks, you can’t go wrong, right?

As I made my way up the narrow passage, I walked slowly as I had seen several people slip on the slippery stone steps in Split. And then the passageway opened up and the stairs were no longer stone, but of thin rusty metal that wound up the interior perimeter of the tower.

I’m not typically afraid of heights, but as I made my way up the 60 metre tower, the combination of the strong winds blowing through the tower columns and the cracks in the stone where the stairs were bolted filled me with a nervous excitement. As I proceeded upwards, I mentally planned my escape plan if the stairs suddenly collapsed.

But the escape plan would have to wait for another day. I emerged at the top of the tower and looked out over Split and the Adriatic Sea. 6 months ago, 3 months ago, 1 week ago, I did not expect to be here. I sat there for a long time just watching the city, the sea, and the sun’s slow descent.

Split, Croatia

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

After a busy week in Vienna, Austria, I headed to Zagreb, Croatia. It was a good place to just relax for a bit. I found a nice local restaurant and just slowly sipped coffee while finishing Margaret’s Lawrence’s This Side Jordan. I had trouble reading it when I first arrived in Ghana, but I found it much more compelling after leaving the country because I could make better sense of the geography and the issues.

After a couple days in Zagreb, Michelle and I took the overnight train to Split, Croatia and were greeted with a beautiful sunrise. Split is an incredible convergence of water, sand, forest, and ancient ruins. It has a great vibe to it and though I’ve been here less than 24 hours, I already know it will be a highlight.

To my dearest Vienna

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Dear Vienna,

It was your beauty that made me fall in like with you and the music that made me fall in love. I was only going to spend a few days with you, but after cycling through your streets and seeing a couple of operas, I decided to extend my stay.

In the handful of days we had together, I listened to your music for many hours and enjoyed your greenery. During the long waits for for standing room tickets at the opera house, I got to know some Viennese. Everyone I met was kind and hospitable – indeed, one of my favourite memories will be having lunch with one of your students in front of the opera house.

From you, I discovered that ordering coffee is an art and learned that I like “melanges” because they’re not too strong and have just the right amount of foam. I enjoyed tafelspitz and I wish I had a chance to visit one of your traditional heurigers because I never seemed to get there at the right times.

I know that I only got to know a small part of you, but those small parts were beautiful. I would very much like to return and I hope that our time apart will be brief.

Love,
Jason

Farewell Vienna

Monday, May 11th, 2009

I woke up at 6 am to catch the train out of Vienna, Austria to Zagreb, Croatia. I fell asleep quickly and in my dreams, I was still in Vienna.

Some videos from Krakow and Prague

Monday, May 11th, 2009

I’ve managed to find a pretty quick internet connection so here are a few short videos from the travels:

Happy Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

It feels strange when I write postcards back home… you are present in the pause of my pen. In a part of the world where churches seem to be everywhere, you are never far from my thoughts. I like to think that my quiet whispers to you can be heard somehow as I light each candle. I miss you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

The view over the Danube in Vienna

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I spent a full day cycling throughout Vienna and my favourite part was crossing the bridges over the Danube. There was a great breeze and the view was spectacular. I don’t fall in love with cities easily, but Vienna has won my heart.

Schonnbrunn Palace – Glorietta

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

And then, when you walk up the hill for a closer look, the scale and beauty of the structure is simply breathtaking. If you look closely at the fourth arch from the right, there’s a shameless public display of affection. I can’t blame them though, it’s a pretty romantic place.

Schonbrunn

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

When walking through the doors to the exterior, this is the sight that greets you. It looks almost unreal at first…

The talking pillar at Schonnbrunn

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

HELLO?

HELLOOOOO!

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

JASON! WHAT’S YOURS?

IVAN. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

CANADA!

OHHHH, THAT IS FAR! I AM FROM BULGARIA!

NICE TO MEET YOU!

OKAY GOODBYE!

And moments later, I met the man who was on the other end of the talking pillar. We wandered for a bit the labyrinth and climbed tall poles and sat on benches and jumped on springy things.

The maze in Schonnbrunn

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I wandered around for 40 minutes before finding the path through the hedge maze. It just got downright hilarious when you pass by other people several times in your search for the exit.

It was an interesting time of reflection for me as well, because it’s a great metaphor for life. Everyone’s generally headed in the right direction, it’s just about the approach and the attitude, because no matter what, you’ll eventually reach the end. After completing the maze, while finding my way out, I resisted the urge to tell others the way – a Portuguese couple I met in Bratislava had told me about the maze, but stopped short of telling me how to get through it. I’m glad they let me figure it out for myself.

The Strudel Show

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

My ticket to Schonnbrunn said I also had access to the hourly Strudel Show. The chef was absolutely charming and the strudel was delicious.

Never was there a day as fine as this

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

“Every day one should at least listen to a little song, read a good poem, look at a fine painting, and, if possible, say a few reasonable words.”
– Goethe

Lining up at the opera

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I met fellow travellers Michelle, Karen and Jessie at the hostel and they braved the line for Die Walkure with me as well as the uberlong performance.

After getting our tickets, Karen and I ran down the hallway of the opera house, loudly announcing, “YEAHHHHH we got tickets! RUNNNNNN!!!” before getting shushed. I burst out laughing at Karen’s response, “But we’re just so excited to see the opera!”

They went on to Salzburg the next day to check out a Sound of Music Tour. Regrettably, I have not seen the movie… yet.

The backpacking world can be a small one and paths often intersect – I hope to meet up with them again next week in Budapest, Hungary.

Snacks at the State Opera in Vienna

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

One of the great things about opera houses in Europe is that the rooms where they serve refreshments during the intermission often look like the ones in the picture above. Yeah. Pretty amazing.

Imagine me standing on the balcony in a blue hooded sweatshirt with a glass of red wine. I am surrounded by people dressed in suits, tuxedos and ballgowns.

Note to self, next time I’m in Vienna, bring a tie.

I’ve fallen in love…

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I’ve decided to spend a few extra days in Vienna after seeing Wagner’s Die Walkure. I’ve seen 4 operas in 5 days and found myself captivated by the stories and the performances. I am so grateful that a few years ago, one of my professors challenged our class to a Wagner opera marathon – it provided a great background for seeing the live performances.

What’s the appeal? Well, there are songs that I have grown up with and have listened to many, many times. Songs that are deeply rooted into popular culture and hearing them performed live is an amazing experience. Let’s see if I can convey this with a couple of YouTube videos.

The Drinking Song from Verdi’s La Traviata:

Or the Ride of the Valkyries from Wagner’s Die Walkure – or more commonly known as the helicopter from Apocalypse Now:

I must confess, I got a little teary during the Ride of the Valkyries – it’s a powerful piece of music and hearing it performed live was a dream come true.

And finally, the horn call in Siegfried (starts at 00:40):

Going to the opera in Vienna has become an experience that I won’t soon forget. I’ve met some great people during the waits for the tickets and though 5 hours seems like a long time for a performance, the time just flies by.

I’ve fallen in love… with the opera.