Thursday, July 20, 2017

Two hours by train from Vienna

The main reason I chose to take R&R in Vienna, Austria is its proximity to its Central European neighbors. That it's a kandlocked nation, Danube river notwithstanding, was another draw. As such, there's a snowball's chance in Hades that I'd go there for work. I flew from the great maritime nation of Greece, via The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, to the green fields of Austria. Now Vienna is an international city, not to just mean residents from across Europe, but from around the world. This distinguishment comes out late at evening, when it appears that the born citizens are at home, getting rested to conquer the world on the morrow. And the memory of the Hapsburg runs deep, with dedications of civic landmarks and learning to Franz Josef. The Hapsburgs are still around, though the British royalty get all the attention: 20 year old Ferdinand von Habsburg is better known as a Racecar driver.

I had the opportunity to visit Bratlislava in Slovakia and Brno in the Czech Republic.  Once subjected to communism, the old winding medieval streets are filled with life. I could only notice the preponderance of streetcars. Once shunned in North America, the quaint mode of transport has been a feature of Central European life since the Romantic age. Several new-builds have been exported to Washington,DC to restart streetcar service recently. The cathedrals in Bratislava and Brno are filled with choirs, organ music, and a congregation. On the street, the older men still wear hats. Named after Dvorak and Chopin, the eastbound trains to Prague pass a dystopia border town. One stop further, and my eyes were fixed on the old city of Brno. At the post office in Brno, I took my first ride in a paternoster. It's really a fancier version of a man lift, but the German invention has been abandoned in Western Europe for safety reasons. Two years ago, I had bought a quick phrase book for Central Europe. It was kind of prophetic that I would have the opportunity to visit. When it was time to fly home to D.C., I was in awe of the lands that once consisted an empire. My pockets had Euros, and coins from Turkey,  Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Denmark, where I had a layover on my return trip. The European hopper flight on Air Berlin was nothing to write home about, but the Scandinavian-accommodating legroom on the long-haul SAS flight was much appreciated. Meal service was the best I've had on a plane. Coffee, tea and water were abundant and available on demand; I like to think the charge for soda was a health incentive. Anyhow, I got my kroner's worth from the flight lounge in Copenhagen.

Someday, I will take the grand tour of Europe- London, Paris and Rome. But those pint-size cities of Central Europe have touched my heart.

Friday, July 7, 2017

When a Vacation Gets Busy

While I was at work, it was easy to say "I don't have enough time" to be worried about activism and protesting. Now on vacation, 'not having enough time' is my own problem, not one I could attribute to my boss or shortened days caused by time advances. At the same time, while at work I could shout as loud as I could off the gunwale of the ship, and no one would hear me. It was an eye-opening experience to trade a weak satellite connection for wifi and broadband; to use internet configured for me rather than one optimized for sending simple text emails. Yes, I did some of my recent blog posts through a satellite connection. I'd write ahead of time, and then wait for early morning to access, when the absence of "higher priority" traffic allowed me a connection to the host website. I will be the first to tell you MSNBC clickbait, used as my ship's internet homepage, does not an informed citizen make.

When I was traveling for work, I sectioned attention to friends and family into a 20-minute phone call or a paragraph email, and a twice-weekly Facebook check. Otherwise, my afterhours were my own to plan and divvy. So when I got home at the beginning of the four-day Independence Day weekend, I was surprised by how much time went to 'family time'. A devotee to an art would tell his or her associated to "leave me alone". A dilettante like myself seeks to appease, placing others' desire for attention above attention to the craft.

For me, the 'staycation' does not work. I created, and am working through a punchlist of items that I couldn't readily complete overseas like tax adjustments, ordering books and videos, and making appointments, visiting Mr. Liedman, my coin dealer. Things I guess people do over lunch break, or late afternoon at work, for the lucky ones. So to get away, I take a 'real' vacation, like my week tramping around the old Austro-Hungarian empire of Central Europe (material for another blog post). I left the US on Inauguration Day (faster than a talking head celebrity), and arrived back after five months away. I was quickly reintroduced to American culture: upon arrival in the US, it appeared that half the border control agents took Friday afternoon off! This was only unusual to me since six full days of work a week is the norm on my ship, and seven days is normal too. Instead of "getting ready for the weekend" on Fridays, the anticipation was "getting ready for the overtime".

I feel like a have just a handgrip keeping me from obsolescence. Tinder, where women sort through virtual binders of men, and men do likewise, was the butt of jokes when I was in college just three years ago. Now I've read that online dating had replaced the 'bar scene' as a matchup forum. I landed at the airport alone in one's own city: In Washington, DC, the summer social calendar is light; and none more so than the week of July 4th. As the weeks away from the US turned to months, I needed to take the time reconnecting with friends. They said Mitt Romney was stuck in the 1950's; he missed the 1960's and ensuing cultural changes as a husband and a Mormon missionary. If I wanted to, I could become a virtual hermit on the ships, with a W2 wage statement and a portfolio ledger as my sole concerns in life. That is not the life for me.  To know that I will go out again, I vow to have all matters better organized for my next vacation!