So although it's been a while I never got the last European city up here. It was of course Paris. We rode there in a very nice private sleeper car -- quite the way to travel indeed. And when we got there JB and his mum Bridget were there to say hi (or at least to meet in the Louvre)!Here's JB with his car (He wishes!)
We had a fine tme wondering around the city having lunch and I spent most of the time ordering in fluent (I thought) French and having the locals answer back in English. I thought that was going to happen in Berlin!
Anyway, we went to a very nice concert in the Madeleine (although I kinda dozed off in the middle)Me and JB being friendly in the City of Lurve
After seeing Bridget and JB off the next morning, we wandered down the Champs Elysees, which had been turned into a big Olympic rallying exhibit.
Sadly for the Forggies (or luckily for their taxpayers depending on your point of view), the Brits twisted a few arms paid the right people off and got awarded the Olympics later that week.
We did end our fab vacation with a very romantic and very good Parisian dinner.
Here are all the Paris pictures
Leaving Prague on a night train, I used my cheap English cellphone to call a random place from the guide book in Berlin. My German and the English of the woman answering the phone matched, and we managed to ascertain "Zimmer Yes!" in about 5 minutes of conversation. However, due to its odd history Berlin has three main stations and the train we were on was splitting, a guard who spoke some English told us. We had to move to the other end of the train and then it went into and out of and then back into the old Eastern station and then slowly over to the West (the Zoo station). By the time we got out on the street and wondered around having been misdirected by a tall, African American guy who stopped "to help" it was close to 2am when we got to our "Zimmer".
Berlin is about done being rebuilt, or at least has taken a pause in that process. Being Germany you can of course buy good sausages on the street (bad news for veggies like Amanda), the beer is good, and surprisingly almost no one speaks English (far more people in France spoke English--kind of annoying when I'd speak to them in French first!). We went on a fun bike tour of Berlin, which is dominated by the hidden history of both WWII and the cold war/Wall period, even though you'd almost miss both of them if you didn't know they'd happened.
First stop on our bike tour was with my old lackeys, Marx and Engels. When I was reading their stuff in college, people over here actually not only believed it, but claimed they were living it.Marx and Engels with 2 other commies
But pretty soon you get to Checkpoint Charlie and into the cold war action. There is a potentially very cool museum here which goes from the end of the war, the protests put down by tanks in Berlin in 1953, the building of the Wall in 1961 all the way through all the escapes from East Germany (one by balloon, one by microlight, one by submarine, lots and lots by tunnel), and all the way up to the East European revolutions of 1989 and even the Russian coup in 1991 (remember that?) that led to the break-up of the Soviet Union. But the museum is totally disorganized and very hard to navigate. Pity.The new faked CheckPoint Charlie
You can of course buy all kinds of "real mementos" across the street.Fake wall, fake museum, fake gasmask, but real stubble
Given how it dominated the city for nearly 40 years, there's not much of the Wall left.What's left of the Wall (Not Much!)
The big open expanse around the Brandenburg gate has been totally taken away, and the there's only a few original strips with one watchtower left. Otherwise there's just the odd cobble stones in the middle of the road to tell it by.The only Watchtower left
Then if you really want to get into it and go looking for Hitler's bunker. Well suffice it to say that unlike the Cabinet War Rooms that's a memorial to Churchill,the Germans aren't quite so proud. Here's a picture below, underneath the best looking block of flats that the communists could manage.Hitler died under here
What they have put up is a photo-based exhibit about the terror of the Nazi years. It's pretty interesting, mostly photos of people who were killed, plus lots of information about the terror mechanism, the death camps, and the SS. Not exactly pleasant stuff, but certainly something that needs to be seen.
Interestingly enough, in addition to the assassination attempt by some of the Army that failed in 1944, there was a lone attempt by an unaffiliated left-winger called Elser
who hid in a Munich beer hall for several nights building a bomb that was designed to blow up when Hitler was making an annual speech there in 1938. Unfortunately, Hitler left 15 minutes earlier than usual, and the place was more or less empty (8 people died when it went off) and Elser was captured by the Gestapo. Funnily enough they kept him alive right until the very end of the war. Interesting to think how history might have changed if Hitler had stayed on schedule that day. Map of the 3rd Reich and its terror camps at the "Topography of Terror" Museum
A weird oddity of the cold war is that the big Russian war memorial was actually in the British sector, and guarded by Russians. One or two escapes were made by Germans pretending to be Russians going to the Memorial driving through the checkpoint with a wreath on the top (sometimes those cars weren't searched).Russian War Memorial (in the British Sector but guarded by Russians!
One of the more impressive things that the East Germans put up was this huge radio tower. But apparently they didn't really know how and snuck a bunch of Swedes in to do it right, and the Swedes played a joke on the allegedly non-Christian commies, by sticking a cross on the tower. You can see it in the picture below.The cross on the Communist radio tower
There is though a lot of new stuff in Berlin. There is this weird and somewhat controversial memorial to the Jews (controversial because it doesnt seem very connected to anything, and makes no mention of anyone else the Nazis killed, and because it takes up a huge amount of real estate, including part that the Americans wanted to protect their new embassy).Memorial to the Jews (new and controversial)
Finally they have done a nice job of putting a glass dome up ontop of the Reichstag, burned down by Hitler in 1933 and unused since then, with the Wall running right past it. Now it's Germans' parliament again. We went up when it wasn't in session but you can kind of see into it from the top. And the view is great.The new and improved Reichstag
And talking of new renovations, the Brandenburg gate -- the symbol of the Divided Berlin that lived in a no mans land for nearly 40 years -- is now surrounded by investment banks. Well, I guess that shows who won the cold war!Brandenburg Gate: Open for business
All the rest of the many pictures from Berlin are here
So first stop on the whirlwind tour was Prague. Quite a place. Although one of the things we missed that I wanted to see was the museum of Communism, one of the first things we did see was the balcony from which Havel addressed the crowd at the time of the Velvet Revolution
...just 16 short years ago.The balcony from which Havel addressed the crowd during the Velvet Revolution
Prague is old and beautifully preserved. it's also a really cool place to hang out for a few days and we could have stayed longer. Plus the beer is good, leading to getting lost on the way back to the hotel several times, although Amanda thought it was the malevolent fault of this towerAmanda thought this tower was "evil"
The most famous thing in Prague in the main square is this old weird astronomical clock. It looks good but it's not quite so impressive when it rings as the horde of tourists looking at it would hope.The Astronomical Clock
What is impressive is the trek up the hill to the Monastery above the Castle, including the beautiful library there.Library at Monastery
And also the stained glass windows in St Vitus Cathederal, although the one I liked the best wasn't the famous one.Not too famous stained glass
Other cool things in Prague include crossing the river on the Charles Bridge, which must come near to collapsing under the weight of tourists.The King Charles Bridge
We also enjoyed hanging out at the Castle (a window from which is from where the Prots "defenstrated" the Catholics starting the 30 Years War). If you go to the whole photo set you can see Amanda imitating a catholic nobleman by trying to leave via the window. You'll also see the crossbow target that between us we blitzed to pieces!Matthew and Amanda oversee Prague
Other cool areas are the former Jewish Ghetto, which was the most vibrant in Europe before the Holocaust, and had a very funky graveyard--all the bodies kept on being buried on top of each other.The Jewish Cemetry
Also quite cool was the Lennon Wall, where every night after his death Lennon-inspired graffitti emerged until finally the Communists were no longer around to wipe it off.Lennon Wall
But mostly Prague was about stumbling about town trying not to be enticed into the lapdancing clubs, eating sausages and accompanying them with many litres of Pilsner. Some of which we took on the train to Berlin and one or two of which might have inspired this photo. Many more photos of Prague are here
.Digital photo by Turner
Way way too long since I posted here. The main news is that I have recently been off to Europe but before that there was chillin' in Napa with the lovely Amanda. More pics here
.Amanda hanging in the vines
Then I had my 500th (month) birthday party. Quite a few ravers showed up, and only one bottle was thrown (at us from the next door high rise!). More party pics hereMe with a few admirers; Well I was 500!
I got in a couple of stiff hikes with KT. Pacifica here
; Marin here KT overlooking Pacific(a)
Then there was a wild rafting trip. This as the annual Joe and Matthew bash. Poor Heidi fell in on her first ever rapid--and it was really cold! Here's the full rafting set
.Rafting types: Anne, Anneli, Stephen and Patrick
Finally I went off to Utah to see Regina,Redhead poses in forest
and do a little cave visiting and flying. Here's all the Utah pics
(lots of them!). And here's a video of me taking off!
(Download will be long on that one)Flying off Point of the Mountain
And then I went to Europe....but that's another photoblog.