Sunday, December 3, 2017

Traveling with the perfect cocktail


I love a Manhattan.  To me it's the perfect cocktail.  It has three ingredients.  It's has a history.  And it tastes delicious.  If I am out for a special evening a Manhattan is the perfect way to compliment my night.  It's not for the light weight drinker.  It's boozy. But if you sip it slowly it will not harm you so don't be afraid of it.

  Basically I would describe it as a whiskey martini.  But that is not giving it justice.  It is made with three ingredients.  Whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters.  It is garnished with a Maraschino cheery at most bars.  If you are at a higher class bar you will get a brandied cherry instead of the waxy chemically colored Maraschino.  Some bartenders use a lemon peel for the garnish but I honestly think the classic brandied cherry is the best.  However I will not turn up my nose or judge the bartender for the lemon peel.  And I usually have to accept the Maraschino cherry from most bars and I don't complain. 

Now the question is what kind of whiskey.  Most recipes call for a Kentucky bourbon or Canadian Whiskey.   And these days Rye whiskey is making a big come back in Manhattans.  This is the classic choice and the one I prefer.  Please don't offer me Crown Royale in my Manhattan. I am a bit of snob that way.

When  I travel I like to sample a Manhattan in the area I am visiting.  And it's fun to see how the different bartenders treat the three simple ingredients.  One of my favorite Manhattans came from a bar in Charleston, South Carolina named High Cotton.  If you have a Manhattan at High Cotton you will be transported back to the 1920's and think you are in a speakeasy.  Their recipe is simple and classic.  They don't experiment or try to wow you with new age additions.  The High Cotton Manhattan is made with bourbon  ,  Carpano Antica vermouth, a splash of bitters and brandy soaked cherries.  I would travel back to Charleston tomorrow just to have one of their Manhattans.  We frequently travel with out friend Gillian Hobson from Manchester, England.  We took her to Charleston four years ago and one of our first stops was to introduce her to the High Cotton Manhattan.  She left High Cotton with a very big smile on her face and a bounce to her step.

Larry and Mark having Manhattan's in Manhattan


Mark and I love New York.  And I love cocktails in New York.  Years ago when Sex and the City was popular I wanted to go to New York for a Cosmo just like Carrie Bradshaw.  It was fun.  But a few years later in New York I wanted the classic experience.  I wanted a Manhattan in Manhattan.  And I have to admit there is no comparison.  If your in New York you really owe yourself a Manhattan in Manhattan.  Historically it is suggested that the Manhattan originated at the Manhattan Club in New York.  The story goes it was invented by Dr. Iain Marshall in the early 1870's for a banquet hosted by  Jennie Jerome.  She is better known as Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Wintson Churchill. The event was in honor of the Presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden.  The event was such a success the drink became highly fashionable.    But don't let anyone fool you with this story. Lady Randolph Churchill was in France during this time and was very pregnant.  So the story is likely false.  Another story tell us it was invented in the 1860's at a bar on Broadway near Houston Street by a bartender named Black.  So no one really knows the origin of the cocktail but it does have a long history. 


Larry having a Manhattan in Manhattan February 2016

Mark and I were once again with our friend Gillian this time in New York.  We spent the day sight seeing.  This was Gillian's first trip to New York so we wanted to show her all of the sights.  At the end of a busy day we ended up in a bar not far from Wall Street where once again I had a Manhattan in Manhattan.  I must have had a couple of drinks because here I am afterwords grabbing the Wall Street bull by the balls. No explanations no apologies.  Go to New York.  Have a Manhattan in Manhattan and then share your story with me.






My next rule for Manhattans.  Watch your bartender.  A Manhattan is a simple drink.  Any good bartender can make one.  But if you have doubts about your bartender I suggest skipping the Manhattan and just order a glass of wine.  Why waste the experience on a bad drink.  My daughter Katie and I were in Nashville earlier this year.  We had spent the day walking and exploring the city.  At the end of our evening we wanted to relax and have a cocktail before returning to our hotel.  We found a beautiful cocktail bar called The Henley at the Aertson Hotel in Nashville.  The bar was decorated with photos of Bette Davis's eyes.  So this made me happy.  I noticed the bartender was young.  She was probably in her early 20's.  So I asked her politely if she knew how to make a Manhattan.  She looked at me and smiled and said "Oh, of course."  So I ordered a Manhattan.  Then I watched her closely.  She did not go to pick up the bourbon, or the vermouth or the bitters.  She went to pick up her cocktail bible.  She had no idea how to make a Manhattan.  I knew then it was not going to be a good experience.  And she did make it wrong.  And she did forget the cherry until I reminded her. 

Bette Davis's eyes were not smiling at the Manhattan

My main rule about Manhattans is to not mess with it.  Don't experiment with it.  Don't try to update the recipe or put your own personal touch on it.  It's a classic.  It does not need embellishments.  However for every rule there is an exception.  And if some one offers to make you a Smoked Manhattan go for it.  Placing your cocktail glass over some smoked hickory chips before filling it with the Manhattan is a surprising delight.

Smoked hickory chips for your Manhattan glass

I was in Waikiki this past November.  Once again I had been walking all day and ready for a relaxing evening with a cocktail.  I had many Maitai's in Waikiki during my stay.  But this day I was ready to just relax and enjoy a Manhattan.  And what do I see on the menu but a smoked Manhattan.  I was ready to break my rule and try this new idea.  Something about the smoke and the rye whiskey just sounded perfect to me.  I was in the bar at the Outrigger Hotel.  I could see Diamond Head in the distance from the beach hotel's windows.  It was the perfect location for this perfect drink.  Now much like Charleston, South Carolina, I would return here to Waikiki tomorrow just to have another one of these drinks.



One of my favorite movies is Honky Tonk Freeway.  You've probably never heard of it.  It is considered one of the biggest box office flops of all time.  But I saw it and loved it.  In the movie Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy play a senior couple who are traveling to Florida.  Hume thinks his wife has a drinking problem.  She tends to order five old fashions with her lunch each day.  Finally he tells her that he thinks she has a drinking problem.

Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in Honky Tonk Freeway

Jessica responds that she is not an alcoholic.  She says your sister always sucks her fruit when she is finished with her drinks.  Now she is an alcoholic.  I never suck my fruit. 

Here I am after a very good Manhattan, not traveling, but here at home at Jerry D's, one of my local favorite restaurants.



Yes Jessica Tandy.  I sucked the fruit.  And it was good!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Bad Ass Beer at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge


My daughter Katie had to travel to Nashville in October 2017 for a work conference.  As part of my 65th birthday celebration year she invited me to travel with her to Nashville for the week.  I had never been to Nashville before so I was glad to be invited.  She would be busy all day at her conference which allowed me lots of time to explore the Music City and see what kind of trouble I could get into.  




Most of what I knew about Nashville I learned watching Ralph Emery on Nashville Now which was on the CMT channel in the 1980's.  I worked night work back in those days.  When I would get home at midnight I would turn on Nashville Now and my daughters Katie and Danielle would crawl out of their beds and come out to join me watching the show. So it was very appropriate that Katie and I got to share this trip now that she is an adult.    When we arrived I knew I wanted to go find Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Broadway in Nashville.  All of the stars on Nashville Now used to talk to Ralph Emery about sneaking out of the back door of The Ryman Auditorium and go into the back door of Tootsie's for a quick drink between shows of The Grand Ole Opry.  So after my tour of The Ryman Auditorium I knew I would want to go out that back door and head over to the back door of Tootsie's. You can see the brick wall of the back of the Ryman on the left in the photo and the back  door of Tootsie's on the left.   



Tootsie's is a tourist trap.  No question about that.  It opens at 10:00 in the morning and the crowds are waiting for the doors to open.  There are bars with music on all three levels of the building including a roof top deck with music also.  I arrived at 10:30 that morning.  The bar was already crowded.  When I went in the back door I followed the sound of the music and found the front bar on the first floor.  There was a band playing and everyone in the bar was singing along with the band.  The woman who was lead singer of the band was standing on top of the bar singing Patsy Cline songs.  She was singing Walking After Midnight at 10:30 in the morning.   It was all that I could have hoped for.   



It was early morning but after all I was in Nashville so I had to have a beer.   I stood at the end of the bar and asked for a beer menu.   It did not take me long to decide.  I saw the name Badass Beer.  What could be more perfect than to have a Badass Beer at Tootsie's my first day in Nashville.  And it gives a good travel story to share.  I can tell everyone I had a Badass beer in  Nashville.   


I finished my beer, walked to the front door, left a tip in the bucket for the band, and then found  my way back out to Broadway.   As I left there was still a small line of people waiting to get inside Tootsie's.  They should have watched Ralph Emery in the 1980's or at least read a guide book.  Use the back door folks.  There is no line!

Katie's conference ended two days later.   I took her into downtown Nashville to show her all that I had discovered while she was working.  So I course I had to show her Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.  We walked down Broadway and when we arrived the lines were twice as long at Tootsie's as they were in the morning of my visit.  She looked at the line and said "Dad we will never get in there tonight but it looks like a fun place."   I told her follow me.  I know a secret.  I took her to the alley behind the Ryman Auditorium and showed her the back entrance to Tootsie's.   There was no line.  We were able to get inside, fight the crowds and get up to the rooftop deck.  It was too crowded to bother trying to get a beer at the bar.  But she was able to experience Tootsie's the way the stars did back in the day.  Through the back door in the alley. 

Katie  on the crowded rooftop of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Train travel in Euorpe - Traveling from Munich to Zurich May 20, 2017

I love riding the trains in Europe.  They are clean, efficient, relaxing and fun.  Our trip to German and Switzerland included many train rides this year and each one was pleasant.  Our first train ride of the vacation was from Munich to Zurich.   We fly direct from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Munich.  We spent two days there before going to Zurich to meet up with some travel friends we have know for many years that we met on the former Virtual Tourist web site.  Although the web site no longer exists the friendships made there continue



1.       We started our leaving Munich the early afternoon of May 20 to head to Zurich.   We bought our tickets the day before but it wasn’t necessary as we could have bought them the day of the trip and still have no problems.

Italian restaurant in the Munich train station



1.       I took some photos in the station when we arrived.  We were early enough for an early lunch at the station.   Luckily there were some good choices for food and not just fast food.   We found a nice Italian restaurant where march ordered a salad plate which was huge.  I asked about the size of the pizza.  The waiter told me it was good for one.   When it arrived it was good for one full table.  So Mark helped me finish it.








1.       Our jet lag had gotten better after two days in Munich so we were not zombies and could enjoy the ride. And also our cell phones.



1.  The train took us Munich, down into Austria, and then back to German in the city of Lindau where we changed tracks.   We never had to change trains.  Our train just changed directions.  




1.       Near Lindau the motion of the train got the best of Mark and he fell asleep.  I was too curious to give into the rocking motion and stayed awake to take photos along the way.




1.          We saw many  small towns and interesting stations like this small one with men sitting at a train station in Turkheim.




1.       We also got to see  Lake Constance (also called Bodensee) in Bavaria.  The lake is a  63km-long central European lake that borders Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Fed by the Rhine River, it’s composed of 2 connected parts, the Untersee (lower lake) and the larger Obersee (upper lake).  




Finally we got to see the beautiful and majestic Alps.   I love the Alps and have been fascinating with them since the first time I saw them in 2003.   As the train moved the mountains seem to change with each curve of the tracks.


There were many small towns along the route.  I enjoyed watching them roll past.   They were all picturesque.  I particularly like the many small churches I got to see in the distance.

Our good friend Sonja

1.       Finally we arrive in Zurich.  We were not expecting a welcoming committee but our friend Sonja, who lives in Zurich, was at the station to meet us.  I was walking down the platform looking at the station and trying to get myself acclimated when I heard a familiar voice and found someone running up to me and hugging me.  What a nice welcome to Zurich.  Like I said earlier.  The Virtual Tourist web site may no longer exist but the beautiful friendships we made there are a bond that will never be broken.





1.       Entering the train station I once again saw the Guardian Angel to those visiting Zurich suspended from the ceiling of the station.  I first saw this in 2003 on my first visit to Zurich.  So it was a great pleasure to see it was still there all these years later.  The guardian angel was designed in the style of the colorful, voluminous “nana” figures for which the artist was world famous. They stand for joyful, liberated, self-confident women. Initially ridiculed by fellow artists, Niki de Saint Phalle's works are now one of the most popular works of contemporary art. .    The Guardian Angel was even mentioned by Ric Steves in his PBS travel series.   I liked her 2003 and even more now.


 Sonja helped us find our hotel and then left us to rest and plan the rest of our night.  Our hotel with the Ibis Zurich West.  It was not city center but was in the Technopark area.  It was a very short tram ride Zurich's city center.



After resting we ventured our for our first tram ride in Zurich.  We went down the city center and found a wonderful Italian restaurant which was both affordable to Zurich standards, which are high, and very comfortable.  


Then I was finished.  The pasta and dessert had gotten the best of me and I was tired after a very long and enjoyable day.  I stretched back in my chair in the restaurant and took a moment to close my eyes before heading back the tram and our hotel.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Man Flu Chronicles


I see the jokes online all of the time.  Man flu.  Wives love to joke about the man flu.   They make funny facebook comments about it.  The discuss it among themselves and laugh.  But when you live in a same sex marriage there are no jokes.  Because we know the man flu is real.  I don't understand how straight men survive the man flu jokes.

Last week I heard Mark sneeze.  He said "Oh no.  I feel a soar throat starting and I am feeling stuffy."  I knew what that meant.  He was bringing man flu into the house.  And I knew it was going to be a long two weeks because once he was better I knew I would be coming down with it.  There is no doubt about that.   But for now he was the one who was getting sick and I had to make sure he was comfortable and taken care of.   So I went  to the grocery store and bought the supplies: cold meds, soft drinks, chicken soup ingredients, and lots of snacks.    He was getting sick on Thursday so we both knew we were in for the weekend.  We checked our Netflix que.   We got out the comforter.  And we headed down to our man cave in the basement for the duration.   By Monday he was feeling better.  That's a typical duration for man flu.   I noticed we were running out of chicken soup and snacks when I sneezed.  Mark had gone to work on Monday as he was feeling better.  So he was not there to hear me sneeze.   So I was on my own.  I headed back to the grocery store knowing I needed supplies.   I bought the ingredients for making lasagna, more cold medication, and lots of snacks.  Snacks are the most important things.  Once you are down with man flu you need lots of snacks in your man cave.   I returned home and felt the scratchy throat start.  I knew it was only a matter of hours before I was down for the count.  So I immediately started the prep for making the lasagna.  This would be our survival food for the next three days as I took my turn battling the man flu.   By the  time the  lasagna was finished I felt the chills starting and knew it was time to head to the cave, turn on the TV and pull up the comforter.


If I must be ill I will remain classy.  Taking my Alka Seltzer Plus in a wine glass.


Larry's man flu day 1:  When my daughters were little and got sick we always made a habit of watching cheesy sci fi or fantasy movies while they were getting better.  To this day when my two girls get sick they will call me and tell me they are watching Total Recall and I immediately know what that means.   Day one of this cold I broke out the movie Krull.   It's a bizarre 80's fantasy film.  It's very trippy and strange.  I was taking Alka Seltzer Plus for my man flu.  Alka Seltzer Plus reacts very strange in my system.  It's almost hallucinogenic.  So the combination of Krull and Alka Seltzer Plus were a perfect combination.  The medicine also makes me very drowsy.  So I dozed in and out of sleep with the bizarre images of Krull of in my head.   Between naps and hand fulls of potato chips I got through the movie.   When Mark home we heated up the lasagna and had supper together in the man cave.



Larry's man flu day 2:  Day two of the Alka Seltzer Plus and bizarre movies.  Today it was a sand and sandal epic.  I combined the Alka Seltzer Plus high with images of Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Eric Bana in the almost 3 hour epic Troy.   It was a perfect choice as there was also a lot of special features on the DVD to watch.  So I had an entire afternoon of dozing off, potato chips, and freshly opened bag of Mars fun sized variety candy bars.   I also had lots of strange bizarre dreams for the second night in a row from the Alka Seltzer Plus.  So I knew I had to spend the next day working that med out of my system.  It always works well for my colds.  It makes me feel better, makes me a little trippy, and sends me to la la land.  But I can only do that for a couple of days.   We had lasagna once more this evening and went on to our binge watching of the TV series Lost.  We started this while Mark was ill.  We had not watched Lost when it was originally on TV.  So with cold meds in our system we entered into the trippy bizarre world of island life on Lost.

Larry's man flu day 3:  Day three had to be planned carefully.  It was time to step away from the Alka Seltzer Plus and get back to some sort of reality.  I got up early and headed to CVS for some different medication.  Then I returned home to the man cave.  I broke out the orange juice, grabbed the Mars fun sized bag of candy bars and put The English Patient in the Blu Ray player.  This was going to be a long day and it called for a long movie.  And once again there was a lot of extra features on the Blu Ray so I had an entire day planned out.  I was Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche was my nurse for the day.  I did receive a Facebook message from my daughter when she saw I was watching The English Patient.  She wanted to know if I was really that desperate.  She hates the movie and wanted to leave when we went to see it back in 1996.  But she knows I love it and that it's a comfort movie for me.  Mark and I continued our Lost binge watching that evening.   He was still a little stuffy from last week.  I was finally beginning to feel a little better.   So everything was looking up.  We finished up the lasagna leaving just enough for my lunch tomorrow.

Larry's man flu day 4: I am feeling better today.  I missed my weekly night of trivia last night and hated that.  My team said they missed me also.  But they are all ladies and I knew they did not want to deal with my man flu so it was best I stayed home.  They can read this and tease me about it next week.  I plan to get off my sofa and crawl out of the cave today.  I might even run the vacuum.  We will see.  I do think one more movie is in order today.  I am not sure what it will be yet but I need to finish up that bag of Mars Fun Sized Candy Bars so it needs to be a fun movie.  Tomorrow I plan to return to the world of the living.  

OH NO.  I just realized tomorrow is January 20.  Donald Trump's Inauguration Day.  The cosmos is playing mean tricks on me.  Just when I am hoping to feel better and get back to reality I realize it's  the day I have been dreading since last November.   Life just got real.  No time for TV's and man caves tomorrow.  It's a media black out day for me.  But I guess it could be worse.  No wait who am I kidding.  This could not get much worse.  Thank God the man flu has passed though and I can get out and away from it all.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Castle in a Vineyard - Chateau d'Aigle in Switzerland

Chateau d'Aigle

I have been reminiscing about the many castles I have had the opportunity to visit in my travels.  I have seen large castles on hillsides, historic castles with fabled pasts, and some small insignificant ones.   But Chateau d'Aigle in Switzerland is one that stands out in my memory as one of my favorites.



Aigle is a very small Swiss village in the French speaking area of Switzerland.  When my ex partner and I were together most of our traveling was related to his professional meetings.  He had one each year in Europe and two each year in the United States.   For some reason that neither of us understood there was a meeting he needed to attend scheduled in a remote ski resort in Switzerland in the month of July 2003.  The ski resort was Les Diablerets.  The small village was empty in July except for people attending the conference.  We took a train from Bern to the village a Aigle.  Aigle is located at the bottom of a mountain below Les Diablerets.   Other than this business meeting there is no way I would have ever ended up in Aigle so I am very grateful to whoever set up the meeting.   There were not a lot of travel web sites available yet so our research was somewhat limited for the trip.  We did buy a couple of travel guides but none of them had any information on Aigle or Les Diablerets.   So everything we saw or encountered was a surprise to us.  And I did not yet have a digital camera so all of these surprises were recorded on film.   I did not have the option to take multiple photos of things I saw.  I had a chance for a photo, and then hoping it would turn out, before taking a photo of the next location.  Luckily most of my photos did turn out alright and I have since digitized and edited them to make them look their best.

Aigle train station


We changed trains at the tiny station in Aigle and took a very small mountain train up to Les Diablerets.  On our journey, just outside of Aigle, we passed a small but beautiful castle.  The castle sat in the middle of vineyard on the lower slopes of the mountain.   It was breath taking.  I knew the moment I saw it that I would be taking that train back down  the mountain from Les Diablerets the first chance I had to visit the castle.  So as soon as my ex's meeting commenced I took the first train the next day back down the mountain to Aigle.

Bakery in Aigle


I arrived in Aigle in time for lunch and I was quite hungry.  I found a bakery located in the building in the photo above here.  I met a very nice young woman who was working there.  I wanted a ham sandwich, the kind they make in France with ham , cheese and a gherkin on a crunchy baguette.   I walked into the bakery and could smell the bread.  It was wonderful.   I also wanted a chance to try out my limited French.  I thought I was pretty good with few phrases.  I tried to ask for ham sandwich and it must have come out all wrong because the young woman had no idea what I was trying to ask for and there was no English spoken in this village.  So I tried to say it again and she still looked very puzzled.  She tried to talk to me.  I tried to talk to her. And neither of us were able to communicate with the other.  We both laughed at ourselves.  She finally let me come behind the counter and point to the items I wanted.  When I started to point to the ham, then the cheese, she knew exactly what I wanted and made me the perfect sandwich.  I left the bakery and walked over to bench in front of a church and ate my sandwich.  I was surrounded by the mountains in a village where no one spoke English and I was having what I thought was the best sandwich ever.  Then I just let myself get lost in the moment.  

The small road from Aigle to the Chateau


After finishing my lunch I found the road out of the village that followed the railroad tracks in the direction of the castle I had seen the previous day.  Once again I let my mind wander and I was in my own little world again walking down small streets in a remote area of Switzerland.  

The castle in the distance in the middle of a vineyard

I got to the vineyards and there in the distance was the castle.  I had no information on it.  I did not know if it was open to the public or not.  I just knew I wanted to see it and take some photos.  When I arrived I found out it was open to the public.  And also I found out there was a restaurant inside and a small bar serving wine from the vineyard.   And there I was.  Sitting in an old castle drinking wine made on the premises, surrounded by the beautiful Swiss alps.   And once again I was in my own little fantasy world.  Suddenly some people walked in all dressed in medieval costumes.  It was almost like I was dreaming.   Apparently they were filming a movie or commercial inside the castle that day.  It could not have been more perfect.   

The castle dates back to the 14th century.  Although it seemed romantic and ideal to me the day I visited it has not always been the most desirable place to visit.  In 1804, the castle was acquired by the community of Aigle and until 1976 it was used as a cantonal jail.  One man's romance is another man's jail.  


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Remembering castles I have visited and saying good bye to Virtual Tourist. Visiting Rosenborg Schloss in Copenhagen



I visited Copenhagen in May of 2005.   2005 was an unusual year for me.  My ex partner and I were into the tenth year of our relationship and it was a rocky year.   I think we both realized things were changing in our relationship but we were not sure where it was headed.   We were both holding onto something that we knew was slowly coming apart.   We traveled to Copenhagen together but spent very little time together in the city.  He had a business conference he was attending.  I was part of an internet travel group called Virtual Tourist.  I was planning to meet a group of friends from the site who lived in the Copenhagen area.  I had not met them in person but was looking forward to meeting them for the first time.  He was not overly interested in meeting my online friends.  So between his business conference and my spending times meeting new friends we spent very little time together. We did have some good times on the trip.  We spent several days in Norway and enjoyed ourselves.  But for most of the time in Copenhagen we saw little of each other.  It was truly a time of transition.  Our relationship did not endure the rest of the year.  Looking back in hindsight I can see it all starting to end here in Copenhagen.  This photo of me in front of the Rosenborg Schloss is the perfect memory from the experience.  It's just me standing alone in front of a beautiful palace having my photo taken by a complete stranger.  And although beautiful the photo is flawed.  The person taking the photo blurred the photo and cut off the very top of the palace towers.   At a glance all looks good but close up you can see the problems.

Before our visit ended I took my ex back to see the castle.  His photo of the Rosenborg Sloss came out much better than the one taken of me.  It was perfectly cropped.  It was in focus.  The color was beautiful.  And there is no one in the photo.  It just the palace by itself.  Coincidence?  I don't know.  But looking back all these years later I can see the symbolism and the difference in the two photos.



I enjoyed.my time meeting new friends from the internet in Copenhagen.  My buddy Claus became a life long friend.  I still see him on occasion when I travel and we are in the same city.  We have great times together and have shared many experiences over a drink.   I also met my friend Jon.  We are still internet friends and have met several times again while traveling also.  And I met a delightful lady named Charlotta.  We no longer meet on that old Virtual Tourist site but she and I do talk frequently on Facebook.    The friendships endured.  The relationship with my ex partner ended.  It's been my gain.  The web site we all met on just announced this week that it is closing down.  All of the conversations we shared on there will be deleted.  Our photos will be gone.  But our experiences will live on.      There were a lot of stories shared between friends on Virtual Tourist.  But this is the first time  I have shared this one.

Internet friendships are real.  And they can endure.    Jon. Claus, and Charlotta with her family and me.  Copenhagen 2005









Friday, January 6, 2017

Visiting Karlstyn Castle - May 2004

I was talking with some of my travel friends in a little list I made on Facebook yesterday about our mutual love of photography and travel.   I have been very fortunate in being allowed to travel and see so many fascinating places.  For the start of the new year I have decided to look back at some of the great castles I have seen and share some stories about them. 


One of the first castles I was able to visit was Karlstyn Castle in the Czech Republic.  I had read a lot about the castle when I was preparing for a trip to Prague.  I had read that it was close to Prague and that it was one of the most visited castles in the Czech Republic.  So I was very excited about visiting this castle.  In my mind I had imagined one of the great castles that inspired the castles in the old Disney cartoons.  But I was a little disappointed when I finally got to see Karlstyn Castle.

I was in Prague and had a day to myself to do a day trip out of the city.  The guide book I was using suggested that it was not difficult to reach the castle and suggested skipping the tour groups who would rent bus tours to Karlstyn.  The guide book gave me good directions to the train station where I could buy my tickets to Karlstyn and go on my own without a group of tourists.   .  I was still a novice traveler and was still learning the ins and outs of exploring Euorpe so I was very thrilled with myself for finding the correct train station with no help from anyone else.  The station to Karlstyn was outside of the city center where there was a lot less English spoken than in the city itself.  This should have been my first red flag that I was in trouble.  I walked into the station and went to the ticket window and tried to ask for a ticket to Karlstyn.  I did not think there  would be any problem because there was a photo of the castle in the window at the ticket booth.  I slowly asked for one ticket to Karlstyn.  The ticket agent just looked at me.  I repeated again very slowly "One ticket to Karylstyn.   I still received just a blank faced expression.  Then the ticket agent said to me very rudely "Česká ! Česká !"   Speak Czech.   Now the panic sets in.  I was outside of city center.  No one was speaking English and I had angered the ticket agent.   But I tried again.  I pointed to the photo of the castle on his booths window and raised one finger to indicate I wanted one ticket to go see the castle.  I said politely "One".   The man pointed to me and said again "Česká ! Česká !"   So I gave up.  I took the tram outside of the station back down to city center.  At the tram stop there was a man, who spoke some English, and was selling tickets to go to Karlstyn for the next day.  Defeated, I bought the ticket and took the tour bus the next day.




The tour advertised that it was in seven languages including English, Italian, French.  So I felt comfortable that I would have no problem.  On the day of the tour the tour guide only spoke two languages.  He spoke English and Česká.   The  only people who spoke English on the bus were me, two Australians, and the guide.  Everyone else spoke different languages and they were not happy.  The tour guide handed them printed out information in their language about the tour and asked them to follow along reading as he talked to us in English.  This did not make the three of us very welcome in the group.    After some arguments over the arrangements and the language problems we were on our way.  We arrived to the little village in the photo just above.   The bus parked in the village and we had to walk up a large hill to get to the castle.  It was a good hike and some of the people on the bus were not young so it was difficult for some of them.  We had lunch in Karlstyn and there was a lot of grumbling about the language problems and the hiking.  The three of us who spoke English were the least favorite of the group.  But during the lunch meal the beer started to flow and people stopped grumbling and I did get to meet two Russian couples and have an interesting conversation with out broken languages.  The Italian speaking  members of the tour never did calm down though and were angry for most of the tour.  It did make for an interesting day.




The castle itself was empty inside.  There was not a lot to see.  It was not very exciting at all in my opinion.  I was expecting it to be renovated and beautiful inside.  So I was a bit disappointed.  But it was my first castle.  And one of my first experiences traveling in a foreign country. So my expectations were a little over the top.  I probably would have enjoyed it much more now.   So all was not lost.  All these years later I still prefer not to take guided tours.  I like the challenge of my finding my own way around, trying to communicate with the locals, and not sharing my experience with arguing tourists unhappy with their guide.    I returned to Prague in 2015.   It's much easier today.  It's very touristy.  There is no problem finding train stations or purchasing tickets.  But I am glad I was there to have the experience before the infrastructure was there.  It left me a good story to tell and something I will never forget.  

Historically the Karlštejn Castle was founded by Czech king and Holy Roman emperor Charles IV (Karel IV.) in 1348, the same year when the king founded Prague's New Town and Charles University. The hill-top castle surrounded by forests was built to hold the royal treasures and coronation jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, and served as the king's retreat. The Czech coronation jewels were also kept there for almost 200 years during and after the Hussite wars in the 15th and 16th century