Tumbled,  not Stirred

I don’t know how double-oh-seven does it, really. Have you ever seen him look less than dapper? Less than exquisitely groomed? More to the point, have you any reason to believe he ever has to do laundry, especially while on assignment?

I’m no International Man of Mystery; i lack the animal magnetism of Connery, the suave self-assurance of Moore, and the sly roguish charm of Brosnan. Craig?

I’ve got nothing on that guy.

But I’ve got dirty laundry. What i mean is, there comes a time in every intrepid traveler’s odyssey when just buying another tshirt in a museum gift store won’t suffice. One must launder!

Fear not, the traveler has options.  One can just buy all new stuff. One can get the hotel to wash it (I did that once at a place in Sri Lanka. Cost me $82). Or you can find a laundromat near your hotel. 

I chose option (3) and it cost me €10. Ten euros. Thirteen, if you count the soft drinks I got from a vending machine. That and an extra hour to compensate for a dryer that didn’t, well…DRY. 

Not rapidly, at any rate. So, instead of the whole thing costing me €7, I ended up pumping €3 in the machine for three additional twenty minute cycles. But I had my secret weapon — a fully charged kindle, loaded with mysteries and stuff.

The entire enterprise should have been dead simple. I had my phone on airport mode to save money, so in my hotel room, I got walking directions on google maps and then took screenshots. 


I •ought• to have been there in twenty four minutes, except I got distracted by architecture (as I often do). For instance:


Or diverted by whimsical stuff:


Pretty sure my mom bought a few of those back in the 70’s when handheld dryers were all the rage. And by rage, I mean the noise of it drove our cat Sydney mad. He destroyed a couple, thinking they were attacking my mom whom he had sworn to Bastet he would protect. 

But I digress. Again. 

Eventually, I found the Waschsalon and set to washing my clothes. Should be straightforward, right? This is me, remember? I’ve been accused of making things complex in the name of a good story. To which I plead the fifth. 


Okay, here’s what I loved about this:

  1. All the washers and dryers are controlled from one place — no trying to get coins in each one. 
  2. The soap was free! They give it away!
  3. The glowing blue slot at the bottom makes change for a €5 or €10 note!

I also found this moderately helpful, once I found it. It cleared up some questions  for this tourist who doesn’t read German:


 No story would be complete without a grand finale. This is, after all, Vienna, Austria — a town renowned for opera. In this dramatic final scene, I managed to get lost on the way back to my hotel. 

It seems hard to believe, but there was no moon, and I was very busy composing this post in my mind. I clearly took a wrong turn and lost track of east, west, et cetera. Finally, I did that which bond would never, ever do. 

I asked someone for help.

“This is the walking song, a song in which to walk…”

Okay, somewhere, nick cave is grinding his teeth at my perversion of a good song. 

Having gotten that out of the way, I can report a glorious sunny day in Vienna, doing nothing but walking miles and miles all day, with a couple subway rides in there. As a consequence, this post has no observations on humanity, art, or the price of tea in Simla. 

When I left my hotel, I set out towards the southwest, but I zigzagged a bit. After a while, I ended up near St. Ruprecht’s church on a street named after Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Somehow, I managed four years of Latin without learning that he died in Vienna?


The jury is out whether this is the city’s first church,  but it sure wasn’t built yesterday, that’s for sure 

Moving south, I found a post office before beating east. I was seeking , and found, the Hunnertwasser House near the canal. 


After discovering I couldn’t go inside, I zigzagged north and east until I reached the Prater, at which point I realized I was starving, and scarfed down a kasekraner and a soda. Without those, I figured, I’d never reach the Danube. 

At that point, still thinking I could make it to the aqua-terra, housed in an old flak tower from WW11, I hopped the Ubahn to donauinsel, a stop atop a bridge over an island in the Danube. Got all that?


Glamorous, it ain’t. But the views over the river as one emerges from the train into the bridge are something else:


And there are swans. I never knew swans plied their way down the Danube!


Like elected officials, they look noble and glossy until they open their beaks and give voice to their needs. But I digress.

I walked back over the bridge and found a church whose name I have yet to find, but it sits at Mexicoplatz:


From there through a few more blocks through neighborhoods to the Prater, which is where I realized I was getting dehydrated and needed to return to my hotel  for refreshment. 

I wanted to see “the Third Man,” showing in English at a local theater, but an involuntary nap nixed that idea.  Since it only shows on Tuesdays and Fridays, I won’t catch that chance again. 

Nor will I get to see this production at the theater up the street from my hotel:


Well, you can’t have everything. So far, what I’ve seen on this trip is pretty amazing as it is. Not complaining. 

No museums today!

When I woke up, I promised myself that I would not darken the door of a single museum. Not one. No learning, no art, no pedagogy, no history, no curatorial texts. 

Today, I resolved, would just be about fun and nothing else. I began this effort by sleeping a little bit late and having a huge breakfast (bacon, eggs, croissant, a slice of Appelstrudel, and juice), then went upstairs to my room and finished the book I started the other day. 

Then — well after noon, I walked to the Rathaus Ubahn station and rode the U1 line to Praterstern. Here, just across the street from the Ubahn station, was one of the main reasons I came to Vienna:


The riesenrad, featured in Carole Reed’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s post-war thriller, The Third Man.  I could tell you I couldn’t wait to board this piece of film legend, but the Prater has a couple other things I love. Things I had to try:


I think the park has five respectable roller coasters (and about four kiddie coasters that held no appeal for me). I rode three, and the one you see above enjoys the distinction of being one of only two where I had second thoughts at the top of the first ascent. 

But it was a blast, as was an indoor ride that you had to navigate a maze in the dark to reach, then in a completely blacked out space, you careen hither and yon, your only illumination being erratically flashed strobes and lasers. 

I know, it sounds nightmarish, but I had a lot of fun riding that one, too. The third one was a little more standard, but it was a good one to begin  my visit with; it revved my heart rate up so the indoor coaster with the lasers didn’t come as a coronary event for me.

After riding the coaster depicted above, I walked around the entire park before I made a beeline for the riesenrad. There was nary a wait for that one, but there was an anteroom with panoramas and captions about the history of the Ferris wheel and its place in Vienna’s narrative. 

The very minute realized I was reading something Historical, I stepped away and queued up at the gate outside unti the operator opened the next gondola. 


Some fifteen minutes later, I stepped onto terra firma again and took the Ubahn to stephensplatz and strolled through the old city, making sure never to stop more than the two minutes it took  to buy a kasekraner and a soda to eat. 

Then, more walking. Lots more walking. Lots of of impulsive pictures of things (mostly building facades) that caught my attention. One thing I was not expecting:


So far, I’ve found  Vienna chock full of these anomalies. Finding and capturing little marvels without stopping to become the authority on each one has made today feel like the holiday it should be. 

Berlin Zoological Garden

Ah, zoos in the rain. I highly recommend going to the zoo during a summer rain — it’s the best time, really. What smells is washed away; what cries is trundled off to another section; and what crowds will surely dissipate at any threat of a deluge. 

The elephant gate to the Berlin Zoological Gardens signals something special. I opted not to go inside the aquarium, because I wanted to save time for the Bauhaus Archiv, but the exterior of the acquarium is truly spectacular. 


Now, the first thing I did was go find the big cats. I could lament the old fashioned and cramped cages, if all the signage did not proclaim renovations on the way. So, the real delight of that building lies in the basement where nocturnal beasties live. 


These fennec foxes were quite kinetic. It was a pleasure to watch them play.  I was hoping to show you a picture of bats…


But some one must have released them. Perhaps nick cave when he lived here in the late eighties, early nineties.


My return to surface level acquainted me with a Madagascar narrow striped mongoose and a tayra:


After gazing at red kangaroos, vultures, and Przewalski’s horses, I found my way to the inevitable enclosure. I mean, you know this was coming, right?

Low impact introduction 

As I’ve learned over the years, it doesn’t pay to try too much on the first day in a new country. The best thing one can do is figure out the transit system and see one low impact attraction, then walk a while and take stock of the landscape.

With this strategy in mind, I took the s-Bahn 75 to  the Berlin Central Train station, or Hauptbahnhof, to pick up my train ticket to Vienna. I then took the free tour of the Bundestag roof and walked the spiral ramp to the top of the dome.


After taking several photos of Berlin from on high, I strolled through the Tiergarten to the Brandenberg Gate and chuckled at the failure of communism in the twenty first century.   Have a coke and a smile!


A stroll through the Holocaust memorial and a walk on the south side of the Tiergarten took me to klingenhofer strasse, which in turn led me to the  Nollendorf u-Bahn station, where I caught a U1 to warschauer avenue and transferred to the s-Bahn so I could return to Ostkreuz and then my hotel.


I really need to get over being such a slacker on my vacations!
 

Dusit Zoo

At a physical level, getting to Dusit zoo in Bangkok is rather easy — much easier than reaching the zoo in Philadelphia, which the Dusit zoo resembles. 

In fact, if you looked at a map of where the zoos in each city are located, there’s more than one vague similarity — both sit in the north central section of the city and a long traffic artery extends west from an elevated train to a mile or two past the zoo. Buses travel either way. 

Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand advises visitors to take the BTS or skytrain, to Phrya Thai and take a taxi to the zoo. That didn’t make sense to me, so I took the skytrain one stop further and walked down Th Ratchetiwi, past the king’s residence (scary looking guns on those guards pacing the moat, but they helped me find the zoo) and right up to the zoo entrance. An entrance fee of 150 Baht (~$4.50) got me inside and I spent the next two hours with a bunch of animals.

Some of these animals, like the Asian water monitors, walk around the lake, unenclosed. They glare balefully, and signs warn they bite.

  
Others, like two Australian cassowaries, are firmly enclosed, but adolescents taunt them and one wishes they •would• bite.

  
 The Humboldt penguins are so enclosed by thick glass (as much for climate as isolation from humans, but that doesn’t stop kids from ignoring the “please do not tap on glass” signs).

It took me five minutes to get one decent picture with my phone, and i don’t harbor much hope for the shots taken with my film camera. 

   

I also saw a couple koala bears, a pair of langorous hippos, and two elephants. Do you think they’ll be ready…

I mentioned the Dusit zoo has much in common with the Philadelphia zoo. Three attributes that stand out are lackluster food options; dirty walkways with little efforts to clean the areas humans stroll; and the sad realization that the humans visiting look a lot happier than the permanent residents. Only the Penguins showed any alacrity, and that was while underwater in a presumably cool tank. 

After walking around the zoo for two hours, I realized the wisdom of the lonely planet guide’s instructions. While I happily trudged alone in direct sunlight for forty five minutes from the Victory Monument skytrain stop, such an option would be unthinkable for a family with small children, and the teens who were at the zoo in abundance probably would think it a real drag. 

It takes an intrepid tourist (also known as a “fucking idiot American”) to walk not only that distance, but also go on to trudge through the zoo for another two hours, before walking down the Rama V road to Th. Ayuttaya, through the marble temple complex for an hour, and then back to Phrya Thai skytrain station, and on to my hotel. I did stop, towards the very end, to get bubble bath. That was one well-deserved soak, I can assure you!

In Moscow

Today I toured Moscow. It sounds so compact, but trust me, I barely scratched the surface. Tomorrow, I’ll dig much deeper, as far as i can on a Monday when so many things seem closed. I expect to penetrate more deeply on Tuesday, but Wednesday I fly home. I think I need to make two separate trips to Russia in the future, so I can explore Moscow and Saint Petersburg in more detail.

That said, let me hone in on a couple of highlights. I found Red Square and the Kremlin far warmer than I expected. Likewise, the GUM shopping center was much more lovely than I believed possible.  Overall, Moscow has proven much prettier and human proportioned than I was given to expect. Also, I knew nothing of Stalin’s Seven Sisters, but these number among the loveliest buildings I’ve seen in Russia yet. Especially the Academy of Sciences, somewhat near a large ski jump north of city centre. 

The last few hours of my day I spent at the Tretyakov Gallery, situated a few blocks from the Kremlin.  Several things stand out about this collection of Russian indigenous art. The struggle between internal themes and European technical and thematic elements drive a lot of the choices in style and subject. An early painting of Tolstoy suggests whimsy and warmth not always evident in his prose; Kramskoi’s portrait of an unknown woman upends class assumptions; and Surikov’s poignant work, “Morning of Streltsy’s Execution” pits Tsar Peter I’s love of European culture against native Russian nationalists.

I also found myself transfixed by the collection of icons, especially those from Novgorod, Trinity by Andrew Rublev, and the magnificent Transfiguration. As lovely and mystifying images as those icons all are, though, the single artist I will remember above all is Mikhail Vrubel. Am I subjecting his oeuvre to hyperbole when I liken his colors, brush strokes, and thematic intensity to the dancing of Vaslav Nijinsky? I don’t think so. Look at The Swan Princess; Demon Overthrown; and Night: these resemble Nijinsky’s passion and bold, inventive dynamism, while the unfortunate similarity to their lives can’t be gainsaid.

I could probably spend a month at the Tretyakov Gallery and not do it justice; I’d love the chance. What a majestic introduction to a fantastic city.