Monday, June 13, 2005

Shoot-out at the Cesky Corral

Hi everyone,

And sorry that the puns are getting worse and worse. Chris and I are currently in Vienna, which is a place I like more and more every time I visit it. Thankfully we made a very good choice in choosing to get a hostel-to-hostel bus service to get here - travelling from Prague to Cesky Krumlov, although quite scenic, was slow, and highly irritating. Although we were supposed to only have one change, the first train stopped at a station where we had to take a substitute bus service for a while - thankfully our connection was held, but it led to a bit of panic rushing around the station. The train to Cesky Krumlov was then slow, hot, and stopped every five minutes - we had more of the same to look forward to the next day; by taking the minibus we set off later and arrived earlier.

We also had the entertainment of travelling with a mad American (thankfully we were sat well away from him!), who had this classic conversation with the minibus driver:
American: What are all these girls doing by the side of the road?
Driver: What do you think?
American: Oh! I thought they were there to point the truck drivers to the correct exits

As for Cesky Krumlov, the town itself was beautiful, well worth visiting, if a pain in the arse to get to. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site - although in my opinion this designation is given out a little too easily (the entire city of Bath is included in this list), I can see why it is applied here - the old town is virtually untouched from centuries ago; although the view is spoilt by some tremendously ugly new buildings on the outskirts. Just about all the buildings were very intricately designed, and although the place was busy with tourists it somehow felt right, certainly less irritating than Prague. The castle provided great views across the old town, and walking around the river was also good fun. My only regret is that I wasn´t there long enough to be able to get a canoe or an inner-tube and go down the Vltava River. Certainly worth a visit if you can find an easy way of reaching there... the hostel we stayed at was very good too - the bar seemed popular with locals as well as travellers, and we managed to spend most of the evening either playing cards, or arguing with Antipodeians about rugby and cricket (although the Aussie did concede that we may have a good chance in the Ashes series next year).

Now we are in Vienna; last night wasn´t brilliant (no bars like those in Prague or Cesky Krumlov within easy reach), especially as the hostel was taken over by some travelling group, largely composed of Australians, who didn´t seem that bothered about annoying everyone else trying to use the hostel. However, today has been much better. In particular, we visited the Haus Der Musik - an excellent exhibition/interactive museum about all kinds of music - the way we hear, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, famous Austrian composers, and then a bizarre feature called the "Brain Opera" - again interactive, designed to get people making music just through ordinary actions. Some of the exhibits were very clever - eg forming your own waltz through the rolling of dice - whereas others could quite easily have been used as advanced forms of torture (the best being a sound delay which asked you to count normally whilst playing your voice back to you, but making you hear random numbers as you counted). Thanks to those of you who recommended I visit there.

Vienna itself is very clearly a baroque city (although few of the buildings have the essential charm of Queen´s) - in a quick history lesson, this is because it never really became the Habsburg centre until the Ottoman Empire´s siege was edefeated in 1683. This of course did not prevent it being a cultural melting-pot in the years afterwards, which means it is full of interesting museums, far too much to cram into a couple of days visiting. Tomorrow we will definitely head out to the Schonbrunn Palace - the gardens are fantastic and I enjoying wandering through them every time I go there - and then probably the MAK Museum, but there is really so much to see I can´t tell exactly what we will end up doing (except it will definitely involve coffee houses at some point). Tonight we are going to the film festival, where they are showing a recording of a concert of John Lee Hooker and Dizzy Gillespie -both of us are quite excited about this.

We will hopefully visit Munich over the weekend, and then after that we may well wind our way to Leipzig, but as yet it isn´t really that well determined. It seems so strange that all our time is disappearing so fast... Anyway, I think again I´ve written far too much, so I´ll go now, with the usual exhortation to keep in touch.

Best wishes,