Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vladivostok Happenings: Jazz, The Olympic Torch and Winter Weather

Kristen says...

I feel like it's been forever since I've done a real "Vladivostok post", so I'm very happy to be able to write this one today!

It has been an eventful couple weeks here in the city. First of all, the city hosted another International event: The Vladivostok International Jazz Festival!
A gigantor billboard near the center of town...seriously the thing is probably somewhere between 1 and 2 storeys (yep, that is grammatically correct, believe it or not) tall!!
 Chris attended one of the concerts while I was in Europe, and we attended another together after I got back:
It's not a great picture, but the pianist is Eldar Djangirov. I can't say jazz is my favorite style of music, and especially the style of jazz these three preformed, but Chris (and the rest of the audience) really enjoyed it. :)
Then, this past weekend the Olympic Torch came to Vladivostok! (We're at less than 100 days, people!!!)

We went downtown early Saturday and watched the setup around the main square and along Svetlanskaya St...
It looks like early morning, but it was probably 11 am or's staying darker, longer in the mornings now...unlike most of the world, Russia doesn't "fall back" (or "spring forward", for that matter...)
I'm assuming this tape was an attempt to keep people from mobbing the runners in the streets? From some of the photos I've seen, I'm not sure it worked...
These billboards lined the roads the torches were being run on...notice that the graffiti was also covered for the occasion! :)
VERY unfortunately, Chris and I didn't actually see any of the torches (we were downtown too early and back home by the time the events occurred) but we did have Cinnabon (the only Western chain open in Vladivostok! Sooo good!), so that helped a little :)
Um, amazing.
Notice anything different about Chris? He's participating in Movember (or just lazy, I'm not sure which...I guess we'll see on Dec. 1!) :)
Sorry about the lack of torch pictures taken by me, but if you're interested, you can check out some (probably much better quality) pictures here, and find out more information about the torch in Vlad here and here.

 I also heard that one of our locally employed staff saw someone swimming with the torch, which is kind of interesting...and I was also told that the torch is now on it's way toward Sochi on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which is apparently the first time an Olympic torch has traveled by trivia to store up for later! :)

 Finally, (and amazingly late in the year, apparently), we had our first round of SNOW this week! :)
The view from the back of our apartment.
This was quite distressing to some people...but I kind of like it (when I'm not outside walking the dog, that is!) Thanksgiving is next Thursday, which I use as my own personal marker of when I can start decorating for will feel much more authentic now that there is snow on the ground! :)


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Man, I Love Europe! Part 2: Vienna and Bratislava

Kristen says...

We have ANOTHER new niece! Amazing. (The count, if you're keeping track, by the way, is 2 girls, 3 boys. Awesome.) Welcome, Gemma Michelle.

When I left you last I was getting ready to leave Germany for a few days of vacation in Austria. We have a friend living in Vienna, and she nicely agreed to host me for a few days, and it was to her home that I went after the short flight from Frankfurt to Vienna.

We spent the first night catching up, and the next morning I set out to explore the beautiful city of Vienna:

My first stop was the Hofburg Palace and the Sisi Museum. I'm pretty up on my English royal history, but was much less well versed in the history of the Austrian (and Spanish, and Hungarian, and seemingly everywhere else!) Hapsburgs, so the Sisi Museum was enlightening.
Not every museum has Roman ruins just outside!
A fancily-folded Viennese court napkin--a turkey just in time for Thanksgiving
 I also visited the Globe Museum and adjoined Esperanto Museum, both very informative and worth the price of admission! For example, did you know that up until the 19th century (or later) it was common practice for globes to be made in globe of the Earth (the one we are used to) and one of the stars and constellations...who knew. Also, if you didn't know, Esperanto is a planned language, one that incorporates elements of many of the languages spoken in Europe (which makes sense because it was planned to be a language that could be used to conduct business and connect people all over the European continent.) Haven't heard of it? Neither had didn't really catch on, although there are still people around who can still speak the language.

On my second day in Vienna, a Wednesday, I woke up and decided to hop on a train and head to Bratislava, Slovakia, for no reason other than that I could! :)

I wasn't really sure what to hit in Bratislava, other than the castle on the hill, so I went there first.
It's nicknamed the table, because it looks like an upside-down table. It's also almost all re-built, as it burned down a few hundred years ago.
The view of the Danube from the castle
The stairway in the castle...I closed my eyes and imagined myself a
 Bratislava isn't a very big town, so I was able to see the castle from all over the city, including from the windows and tower of the Bratislava City Museum
I read Rick Steves' account of Bratislava in his Vienna book, and I thought more of this museum than he did. I encourage you to visit it, it really is quite interesting.
Kristen and the Castle
Table in the background, main square in the foreground
 I also saw a few other famous Bratislavian sights, including this guy:
Cumil, the peeper
 And then returned to the train station to take the hour-long train ride back to two more days of sight-seeing in Vienna

The next day I had a large decision to make about which of the multitude of Viennese sights to see. After wandering around the city for a bit (and enjoying this gorgeous sight)
I decided it was too nice of a day to go inside at all, so I chose to just sit outside and enjoy the sun for about an hour (and watch the setup for the upcoming Christmas Markets). A little later the clouds came back and I decided to visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which turned out to be a very good idea indeed. :) I love art history museums.
I'm so sad to miss the Christmas Markets, I hear they are fabulous!
I've never felt that this was a proper way to study art, but what do I know?
I love cameos! Glad the Hapsburgs did, too!
I always forget that Marie Antoinette was Austrian, rather than French...thanks for the reminder, every museum in Vienna!
My last day in Vienna was also spent at museums, beginning with the Schönbrunn Palace
I like palaces.
Schönbrunn is supposed to be second only to Versailles as an example of European royal life...I've now been to both, and like both for different reasons...although if you do visit Vienna, and go to the Sisi museum, and don't want to see anything Rococo or about Marie Antoinette's family, you can skip Schönbrunn and just hit the Sisi...if you want. :)
Remember when you read that Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer book and they talked about building a faux Roman ruin in the backyard...take at look at the Hapsburg's Roman ruin! :)
The Schönbrunn tour goes pretty quickly, so that afternoon I found out that my Kunsthistorisches Museum ticket also got me into the museums at the Neue Burg (national library building), including the Collection of Arms and Armour
Nice skirt ;) (Actually, according to the audio tour, this type of armor was a reflection of the actual clothing worn by men of the day...)
Ephesos Museum
I never know how to feel about museums that have large amounts of ancient ruins originally from other counties...
 and Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, so I figured, why not?
I used to play the clarinet, way back in the day
 Finally, just as the sun was setting, I headed back to my friend's house to pack, go to bed early, and get ready for my 6 am flight back to Frankfurt, Moscow, and finally Vladivostok.
Couldn't go through Vienna without seeing Mozart!
It was a really great trip, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to see three new countries in two weeks! :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Man, I love Europe! Part 1: Frankfurt and Heidelberg

Kristen says...

Happy Veteran's Day!!

Well, I have to say I am exhausted but quite happy after 2 weeks in Europe!

I actually went to Germany for a job training, but Chris encouraged me to stay an extra week (and really, why fly almost literally halfway around the world and not stay long enough to enjoy it!?) I did! :)

My odyssey began on a Saturday morning in Russia...the nice thing about flying to almost anywhere from here is that you gain back some or all of the time you lost during the flights...which means that almost 24 real hours later I landed early Saturday evening in Frankfurt. I went to the hotel, e-mailed Chris and my parents that I'd made it, and passed out on the fairly comfortable hotel bed.

The next day I forced myself to get out of bed and go see Frankfurt (since the rest of the week would be spent in class)!

Here are some of the highlights:
Giant Euro Sign
The leading runners in the Frankfurt Marathon...I "ran" into the marathon all over the city (hahaha) was really enjoyable to watch both the runners and the crowd!
My favorite part of the city, the Römer
More of the Römer
I saw people doing this both in Frankfurt and Heidelberg...I still don't know how they did it!
Medieval pictures in the Römer
There is an historic church walk that I highly suggest you do if you ever go to Frankfurt and you enjoy old churches. Beautiful.
 I went up to the tower of one of the churches, the Dom (Cathedral of St. Bartholomew)
66 meters...315 steps!
One of the views from the top
The Dom at night
I also ate some delicious food in Frankfurt:
Hot Chocolate...soo good!
Pretzels...I can't begin to tell you how many of these I ate while in Germany...yum!! This one came with two types of cheese, onions and a radish.

After a week of Frankfurt and training, etc, I hopped on a fast train to Heidelberg for some sightseeing and history...and food.
Let's start with the Spätzle...oh my gosh...amazing. I almost went back the next day for another helping because it was so good...
Delish. For better or for worse, though, I decided on Pizza Hut for my other Hiedelbergian about polar opposites. :)
To be fair, though, it did have cream cheese in the crust, and was pretty amazingly good. And there is no Pizza Hut (or McDonalds, or Applebees, or anything else Western...)
 Besides eating, I did see some of the sights of Heidelberg...or tried to see some of them, the ones that were open anyway...
The Textile Museum, the one of the things I was really excited to see in Heidelberg, was closed for basically just the time I was there...le sigh.
 Luckily other things were the Castle!
It was pretty neat
The view of the town from the castle...pretty!
It was a rainy day in Heidelberg, so I had unfortunately curly hair.
 You have the option of riding up to the castle on a funicular, which is funny since we have a funicular here in Vlad!
This one is over 100 years old, which is kind of cool....
 Technically, you also have the option to ride down, but I decided to enjoy a walk in the woods (and burn off some of those Spätzle calories!)
I love forests in the fall
The hood was for the rain, not the cold
 Other interesting sights included the original gate to the city
 The beautiful countryside
 And the German Museum of Packaging, something of a surprise hit...
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like, a museum dedicated to product packaging...according to the obliging docent, it is the only packaging museum in Germany, and quite possibly the only one in was certainly the only one I've ever heard of!
It did a really nice job of showing how famous German products have been packaged over time...unfortunately all the information was written in German, but the nice student-employee at the front desk was gracious enough to give me a guided tour, which was really interesting!
 I was only in Heidelberg for two days, at which point I was going to take the train back to Frankfurt and then fly home to Russia...but then I found out the school I volunteer at had a break for the week of November 4, so Chris encouraged me to stay in Europe through the week...and how do you pass up a deal like that?

So, instead of flying to Russia, I flew to Austria...but I'll blog about that another's time to go to bed and get over this jet lag...I have to work tomorrow! :)