Belvedere Palace, Vienna

The the building of the upper Belvedere Palace began in 1717.  Years ago, I had read that the White House was intentionally designed to be a modest structure.  During visits to DC, it had always seemed pretty grand to me. Given the opulence of truly grand palaces built around the 17th century, the White House is actually quite modest. The ceilings on each floor are at least 40 ft high.  Walking up the steps, it became obvious how high the ceilings were.  There were four flights of stairs between each floor. DSCN2621

This is a ceiling fresco in the Marble Hall.  Standing below it you see it 40 ft off the floor. It is credited to Carlo Carlone.
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt was what called Marcia to the Belvedere Palace.  The painting incorporated the application of gold leaf.   It was against the rules to take pictures in rooms with paintings, in a side room next to the room with the actual painting was a reproduction of The Kiss that was designated for selfies.  Apparently “selfie” needs no translation to other languages.  There was a short queue, so we waited to get the above picture.
A view of the gardens from the window of the Upper Belvedere.  The smaller Lower Belvedere can be seen with the red roof at the end of the gardens at the left.


Sarah and Rachel would be upset with me posting this picture without their permission.  Since they are not reading the blog and did not know the picture was taken, the tree that fell in the woods made no sound.


It would be great if they would agree to have their picture taken.

When we came upon the above monument we were surprised to see the Cyrillic lettering. Looking closer we saw the gold shield at the top with the hammer and sickle of the former Soviet Union.  Wikipedia shed light on the monument, “The Soviet War Memorial in Vienna, more formally known as the Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee (English: Heroes’ Monument of the Red Army) is is located at Vienna’s Schwarzenbergplatz”  It is a tribute to the 17,000 Red Army soldiers who during WWII lost their lives in the Battle of Vienna. It seemed strange to have a monument dedicated to the Army that conquered the city. The Viennese view the monument as a painful reminder of Soviet occupation during the weeks following the war. Putin visited the monument in 2007 to lay flowers on it and thank the citizens of Vienna for not demolishing it.  Despite protests, the city paid to refurbish it.  When we visited the monument was in excellent condition.

A pine tree surviving against the odds in a doorway seen during our walk
On the sidewalk near the above door.
An unusual paint job on a Triumph (model unknown).  Seeing all the motorcycles and fast scooters darting around cities across Europe has piqued my desire for a motorcycle.  Unlikely to happen, but the thought has crossed my mind.


Vienna, Austria

Alex and Sarah took the train to Vienna, while Marcia, Ella, Rachel and I drove.  We meet at the Park Hyatt in Vienna.  Thanks again to Hyatt Chase Visa points.

This wasn’t the car car we arrived in, but we could not avoid the opportunity to take a picture with a brand new flat black Lamborghini. Only a portion of the seat was white.  The picture doesn’t do justice to car.
A night view of the Imperial Palace in the heart of Vienna.  Ella is in the foreground, to her right are Alex, Rachel and Sarah. This was the seat of power for seven centuries of the Habsburg’s empire.
Daytime photo of the Imperial Palace.
The next day, we all took the train out to the Schonbrunn Palace. 

Ella and Sarah were reluctant to make the trek through 3% of the 1441 rooms of the Palace. Sarah, Ella and I stayed back and waited at a restaurant, got bored and took a walk, and came back to a different restaurant and ate.  The Schönbrunn Palace was built between 1696 and 1730, and eventually converted into a residence for Maria Theresa, the only woman to serve as a Habsburg ruler. Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa had 16 children, 5 boys and 11 girls. One of her daughters, Marie Antoinette became Queen of France.

Here you get a sense how the Palace has 1441 rooms.
Near the entry of the Palace, a bridal party enters the grounds.

One of the highlights of the visit to Vienna was seeing the performance of the Lipizzaner horses at the the Imperial Palace.  450 years of tradition in a portion of the Palace that the Habsburgs watched comparable performances. No pictures were allowed.  I failed to check the battery in the camera.  It was completely dead, so it did not matter that taking photos were prohibited.

Alex arrives in Budapest

Marcia’s cousin, Alex (Alexandra), joined us in Budapest.  Everyone was happy to see her. It was a breath of fresh air to add to the mix.

Europe’s second longest river, the Danube, is between us and the Museum of Fine Arts in the background.
The famous Chain Bridge connects Buda (on the left) and Pest (on the right). Great numbers of pedestrians, cars, buses, and trucks use the bridge. 
At first glance it was hard to tell why it was called the Chain Bridge.  I was expecting to see massive conventional chain links.  It is actually more like a bicycle chain without a roller between the links (or plates as labeled in the image below).  The links are greatly elongated and instead of a pin, there is a big bolt and nut.
Imagine 11 plates going each way without the rollers in the middle.
The girls missed American food.  Alex made their day by bringing Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
A take-off on Hey Jude.  We thought of Alex’s mom, Hey June! 
The grandeur of the buildings throughout BudaPest was a function of the materials and the thousands of hours of labor that went into building them. 



Can you tell which building was constructed during the Soviet era?  I failed to get a picture of the post-Soviet era Marriott and Sofitel, which also failed to capture the character of the city.

Budapest, Hungary

The highways from Graz to Budapest were divided four lane highways between the cities. Once we were south of Graz, the countryside could have been mistaken for Indiana north of Martinsville.  The only difference was that in the distance foothills could be seen. A little over halfway to Budapest we stopped to see Lake Balaton. It is about 80 km long and quite wide. There were several sailboats we could see at a distance.  They were too small to be seen in the first picture.

We had planned to have lunch by the lake, but the busiest restaurant did not accept credit cards or Euros.  Without any Hungarian currency (Fortin, FT), we continued on Budapest.

Once we unloaded all our luggage and parked the car in a public garage, we got settled in the nicest apartment of our trip.

The next day Marcia and I had a wonderful meal at a cafe on a pedestrian walkway.  Being in Hungary, we went with local dishes, Hungarian Goulash Soup as a starter, followed by Mangalica steak served on a very hot stone. The Mangalica pig is a long-haired pig that looks like a sheep. We were a bit weary when a fairly thick piece of meat came out that was 95 % raw.  The waiter explained the procedure of cutting off a slice of and putting it on the stone.  He told us the stone would stay hot for an hour.  The stone very quickly cooked each slice. It reminded us of being at a fondue restaurant where you cook your own meat. With the seasoning on the stone it was absolutely delicious.  According to several internet sources Mangalica pork is as prized as Kobe beef. Better than Kobe, in our opinion.

We had eaten more than half of it before thinking about taking a picture.

The girls were equally pleased with their choice of restaurant, KFC. They ordered the Koser Classic Bucket that came with a mix of wings, tenders, a couple legs and french fries. They sat by the window, so they could see us and we could see them.



Our walk-up apartment is on the second (in the US third floor).  The distance between floors is significant.  The ceiling height of the ground level apartments is 20 ft, while the ceiling height in our apartment is 14 ft.  All the interior doors are approximately 8 ft high.
The massive Central Market Hall is across the street from our apartment. There are three levels and many vendors.  There is even an ALDI’s. on the level below the one in the picture.

One of the highlights of May 22, 2016 was Sarah’s 13th birthday.

Graz Austria and Lippizan Horses

The Piber Stud Farm  is the home for breeding and training Lipizzaner horses in Austria.  They train the horses for the first three years of their lives. The horses do not start out their characteristic shade of white.  For the first two or three years of their lives the fouls are brown, reddish brown, or gray.  We watched two of them train in the indoor arena.



The dark brown fouls will eventually be the same color as their parents.


The video shows the Lippizaner herd in the one of the pastures. At the end of the video Rachel rides the mechanical horse in front of the ticket office.

We missed seeing the Lippizzan stud farm in Lipica, Slovenia.  The Slovenian stud farm at Lipica dates back to 1580. At the conclusion of WWII, the herd was divided and a portion of the studs were moved to Austria.  We had intended to see the Slovenian Lippizzan horses in Lipica, but since the ferry was cancelled from Patras to Trieste, we missed it.  Hopefully, the next time in Slovenia, we will visit Lipica.

Graz, Austria

We have used VRBO, AIRBNB, and to reserve places to stay. We have had great luck finding places to stay.  We favored apartments with verified reviews. Reading the reviews would provide great details about wifi, beds, cleanliness, neighborhood, etc. When meeting the person who gave us the key and showed us each apartment, Marcia typically asked about the safety of the neighborhood.  At Graz, Joel said the neighborhood was safe.  He said there are a lot of college students and young families. Later he explained that the neighborhood was like the red light district in Amsterdam, but much tamer. Looking down the street confirmed his comment. From visiting the Louvre and seeing the anatomically correct Greek and Neoclassical statues, getting lost in the red light district near Moulin Rouge in Paris, and walking by a gentleman’s club in Graz, the girls are getting an education in an unanticipated domain.

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Graz, Austria.  Looking the right of the building to pink section is our ground level apartment. We were right next to the City Club in the foreground.  The windows along the right side of the lower level had female nudes in an impressionistic style.  There was no question as to the nature of the City Club.
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The fire station near our apartment in Graz

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These billboards of presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, were everywhere. We did not see billboards for the Green Party candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen.

According the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Hofer carries a 9mm Glock on the campaign trail.  He says “carrying guns is a “natural consequence” of immigration and likes to post pictures of him and his family (he has four children) on gun ranges.”  More from the Daily Telegraph,

Hofer was responsible for drafting the new Freedom Party manifesto which has taken the party back to its nationalist roots, focusing on “identity” – that’s code for native Austrians, not immigrants or their children.

He has also been spotted wearing the blue cornflower, which is an old clandestine Nazi symbol that harks back to ideas of pan-Germanism, the nineteenth century idea of a ‘greater Germany’ that ultimately inspired Hitler’s foreign policy and the annexations and invasions that triggered the Second World War.

In the British press, Hofer has been compared to Trump based on his anti immigrant stand. The votes are being counted at the moment and the vote is 50/50 with Hofer leading the exit polls by a thin margin.

Ljubljana and Maribor, Slovenia

Last summer, Bob and Rhonda had much praise for the people and countryside of Slovenia. Their recommendation was spot on.  Ljubljana had a vibrancy consistent with a nation’s capital.  Home to the University of Ljubljana, the streets and cafes were full of students.  Shops and cafes line the streets adjacent to the river.IMG_1180

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On our way to Graz, Austria, we visited Maribor, home of the Spec’s.  Aleksander, Natalija, and Marušam were great hosts. Natalija served croissants that had just come out of the oven.  Another treat was the best strawberries I have tasted.  They were picked that morning and were exceptionally juicy.  They are grown locally and must be eaten within a day or two.  Thus, they are not sold in supermarkets.

After the snack we headed for Pohorska vzpenjača, a ski slope, and the location of World Cup Alpine Skiing for the past 30 years.

At the bottom of the World Cup Alpine slope, see below for what it looks like in the January during the World Cup competition.


One of the retired gondolas and on the right is the former base for the the gondolas.

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Restavracija Villa Rustica.  In front of Villa Rustica is the foundation of a Roman country home.

We stopped at Restavracija Villa Rustica for a late lunch.  The Spec’s knew the owner.  Wonderful service and excellent meals.  Ella’s dessert is pictured below.  The size of the dessert is not exaggerated by the photo. Ella’s sister and her dad helped finish it.

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After the restaurant we followed the Spec’s as they drove through Maribor and pointed out some of the sites.  We parked our cars on by the river.  Standing on the edge of a very steep bank, the girls threw grass to the geese. Thankfully no one went swimming. Saying goodbye to the Spec’s felt like we had known them a long time.  Very nice people, that we hope we will see again sometime in the future.


Lake Bled, Slovenia

Marcia and Jack at Lake Bled with Bled Castle 130 meters above the level of the lake. (photo credit, Sarah)
Bled Castle with snow capped mountains in the distance.
Marcia walking up to the Bled Castle
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We had lunch next to this wall.
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An aerial view of Bled Castle, courtesy of a google image search.  Marcia and I ate a wonderful meal to the left of the two trees at the upper level of the Castle.  The girls opted to stay back and have ice cream and soda under the red umbrella on the lower right terrace of the Castle.
An demonstration of Rachel’s fascination with photographing birds and animals (photo credit. Rachel)


Another shot by Rachel

During the first full day we were in Ljubljana, we saw a film crew shooting a movie.  We missed the opportunity to get photos.  Two days later we saw the same film crew at Lake Bled.  We were able to watch the filming close-up.


The woman below was clearly the star of the movie.  We watched them do several takes of one scene.  After a take they would review and then make adjustments.


Ljubljana Wall Art

There was  a continuous wall of graffiti outside our apartment.  On the other side of the wall was a once prosperous bicycle factory.  The Rog factory is now shuttered.  At one time our apartment was housing for factory workers. Interestly, when I was taking the pictures there were cyclists passing by.DSCN2312

Logo of the Bicycle Company.


This is the last shot of wall outside our apartment.  
Martin Luther King is part of this mural found in a different section of Ljubljana.
The entire side of this building was painted and appears to be signed by Miron.

Postojna Cave, Slovenia

The tour of the cave lasts 1.5 hours.  A 15-minute train ride takes visitors into the cave. The train passes through a very narrow passage. A tall person would need to duck frequently.  Like the there was no room on the sides.  They did not warn the passengers to kept their arms in, but it was obvious.  The train stopped and everyone walks a trail for the next hour. Because it had rained during the previous week, the ceilings were constantly dripping.   A startling fact was that the stalagmites grow at the rate of one millimeter during a ten-year period.  It take a century to add one centimeter.  To add an inch, it would take 254 years.IMG_1156

The reddish color indicates the presence of iron oxide.


This is the featured stalagmite of the Cave.  It is pure limestone.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

We had the good fortune of meeting Aleksander and Natalija Spec and two of their children Miha (age 17) and Marušam (age 11) in Ljubljana. Their oldest son, Matic is studying at the University of Minnesota and is the boyfriend of our niece Kaitlyn.   The Spec’s are from Maribor, Slovenia and drove to Ljubljana to meet us.  We had a wonderful day as we walked around the city and saw the sights. 

At the Castle that overlooks Ljubljana. From the left Miha, Marusam, Natalija, Marcia and Jack.  In the distance are Austrian mountains.
When we reached the top of the castle we discovered that today was the one day of the year that people come together to enact the middle ages.
The bread of the gentleman to the left was real.  He could easily be cast in a Hollywood film as someone playing as character from the middle ages. To his right is an early printing press.  Let let me try it and it was surprising how much strength was required to fully engage the lever to create the print.


Looking up at the tower of the castle.  We stood at the top and were able to see a 360° view of of green hills and mountains surrounding Ljubljana in springtime.