Saturday, May 28, 2011

Flying solo...literally

Well I'm actually not flying the plane by myself, but I will be flying and traveling alone for the next three weeks. Charlene has a show she is preparing for in Paris in one month, so it's a perfect time for me to "get out of Dodge". I've always wanted to visit Egypt, Greece and Turkey, so I decided six days ago to plan the trip, and I'm leaving for the Paris airport tonight.

Here's the itinerary:

Day 1 - fly from Paris to Athens to Cairo
Day 2 - Cairo, Egypt
Day 3 - Cairo, Egypt
Day 4 - Cairo fly to Luxor, Egypt
Day 5 - Luxor, Egypt
Day 6 - Luxor, Egypt
Day 7 - fly from Luxor to Cairo to Athens, Greece
Day 8 - Athens, Greece
Day 9 - Athens, Greece
Day 10 - Athens to Santorini, Greece by ferry
Day 11 - Santorini to Mykonos, Greece by ferry
Day 12 - Mykonos to Samos, Greece by ferry
Day 13 - Samos to Kusadasi, Turkey by ferry
Day 14 - Ephesus, Turkey
Day 15 - Pammukale, Turkey (night bus to Cappadocia)
Day 16 - Cappadocia, Turkey
Day 17 - Cappadocia (night bus to Istanbul)
Day 18 - Istanbul, Turkey
Day 19 - Istanbul, Turkey
Day 20 - Istanbul fly home to Paris, France

Pretty crazy, but if you're going to have a midlife crisis, why not go down in flames in a blaze of glory?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One more music assignment

Here's another four part harmony exercise from Mihnea Brumariu. This time the original Soprano melody is in half note triplets, implying a 3 over 2 (or 3 over 4 if I used quarter notes) polyrhythm. I had to compose the bass, tenor and alto voices to complete the four part harmony.

We're going Liverpool, England in an hour and will be back in a few days. Then I get to figure out what I'm going to do with the remaining two months in Paris...tough life huh?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eastern Europe - Freiburg, Germany & Prague, Czech Rebuplic (Part 1 of 3)

"Why go to Eastern Europe?"

Heard that way too many times before we left for the trip. A better question is maybe, "Why not go to Eastern Europe?"

It is very inexpensive, the people in the tourist areas almost all speak English, the food is excellent, the beer is even better, there are many things you will never see in any other part of the world especially with the recent fall of communism, you get to see their personal views regarding the cold war, communism, the NAZI party, etc. I could go on, but Eastern Europe is an AWESOME place to visit, no question about it, I highly recommend it to anyone.

Strasbourg, France / Freiburg, Germany

Yes technically this is not Eastern Europe, but we needed to start our trip from Paris somewhere, and Charlene has family living in Germany, so it was a great place to start our trip. We originally thought we were going to stay in Strasbourg, France, but actually this was just the pickup spot from Charlene's cousin to get us and take us to their home in Freiburg, Germany (about 30 miles across the French-German border).

Freiburg, Germany was a beautiful area, and it still surprises me how much a lot of Germany looks like St. Louis, Missouri (minus the cathedrals and castles). Very nice open areas, clean, and lots or red clay brick buildings.

As you could imagine, the beer was great in Germany, the food was good with a lot of potatoes and an interesting kind of German pizza with no cheese (I forget the name of it, but it was pretty good).

Prague, Czech Republic

We then took a night train to Prague. We were lucky to find a Czech pub/cafe/restaurant a few doors down from our hotel (the building was over 500 years old). The food was excellent, excellent...and did I say excellent? The beer was also very good and everything was very inexpensive. Prague is an easy city to walk around everywhere.

There are many sites to see from castles, to bridges, to museums, to parks and just local restaurants and pubs. I finally got to try goulash, very good, highly recommended!

They also had a really cool toy museum with many toys from all over the world as well as toys from the "cold war" era.

I got to check out the Museum of Torture Instruments (no pictures were allowed inside). Three floors of torture insturments that were used throughout Europe for hundreds of years.

We took a day trip out to visit the city Kutna Hora that has some cathedrals and a very interesting "bone church". There are bones from over 40,000 people here. I had seen a bone church in Rome, but the design and scope of this church in Kutna Hora blew away the one in Rome.

We returned back to Prague later that day. The following day we went to the Museum of Communism. It is quite amazing to see the changes from WWI to WWII to the Communist era to the modern "post-Communist" era.

We then took a night train from Prague to Budapest, Hungary...which I'll cover in the next post.

Eastern Europe - Budapest, Hungary (Part 2 of 3)

Budapest, Hungary

We took the night train from Prague to Budapest and arrived quite early in the morning. From the train we took the subway. It was quite interesting, the subway cars in Budapest looked a lot like the subways in New York from the 1970's (think of the movie "The Warriors").

The food in Budapest was even better than the food in Prague. I got to try "real" Hungarian goulash which was excellent. 

We also discovered the wonderful spice Paprika. It is very similar to American BBQ sauce, with both a sweet and hot version of the spice. The beer in Budapest was even less expensive than Prague, about $1 US for a draft beer (yesterday in Paris I just paid $10 US for the same size beer in a pub).

We traveled to the main castle in Budapest and I got to meet a guy straight out of the movie "Highlander". He had an eagle, and for about $5 US I got to hold this huge eagle, it was actually quite heavy and felt very strong...then again it is an eagle, not a parakeet, so I guess it's not too surprising.

There was a creative businessman in Hungary around the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. While most people were tearing down the statues of the Communist leaders, he thought to buy them and create a park where people could come and view the old icons. The end result is Memento Park. There are over 32 HUGE statues to check out in the park. Whene we got there, we were the only people so for a short time it felt like we were in some kind of modern day Mount Olympus.

The next day we left for Krakow, Poland...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Krakow, Poland & Berlin, Germany (Part 3 of 3)

Krakow, Poland

By the time we arrived in Krakow, Poland (on yet another night train) we were pretty tired. It was actually quite cold. That morning at 7:30am, it was (1 ºC = 34 ºF). We considered buying some gloves, but luckily the rest of the trip in Krakow, the temperature stayed above freezing. Very sunny and nice, but windy and cold. We ended up staying in a private room hostel. Private room, but public shower and toilets...hmmm not the biggest fan, but it was only two nights so it wasn't too bad. We got to "party" with a group of Swedish college art students, so my awesome idea was to draw pictures of each other.  My favorite was the drawing where I ended up looking like Cartman from "South Park".

On a much more serious note, we went to visit the WWII concentration camp Auschwitz, which is a little over an hour bus ride from Krakow, Poland. I didn't know what to expect, but it is pretty much incomprehensible seeing these things in real life.

It's one thing to watch a video, or old film footage, or read a book, but when you walk into a room and see 40,000 pairs of shoes (yes 80,000 shoes) or two tons of human hair that was cut off of women, your mind just doesn't work correctly to take it in. This isn't a recreation, these are the real buildings, barracks, fences, railroad tracks, gas chambers and crematoriums from the NAZI's in WWII.

The second larger part of the Auschwitz camp in Berkenau was destroyed quite a bit by the NAZI's to cover it up at the end of the war, but almost all of Auschwitz is still completely in tact. I think the impact is something that hits you much later after you leave. It is one thing to read stories, hear an interview or watch a documentary film, but after you actually walk inside a gas chamber where 1000's of people would die each day, it changes your perspective forever. It is not an easy place to visit, I haven't heard of one person visiting, that regretted going and wasn't moved my the experience.

Berlin, Germany

We took our final night train from Krakow to Berlin. A word about trains (both night and day travel) they suck. We both had to literally jump off the moving train in Prague (because no one told us to get off, so I opened the door and we both had to jump off or miss the stop). We almost had to share a night cabin room with three very sweaty, smelly guys in Budapest, luckily Charlene talked to the train steward and we got a private room (imagine a sauna...that's what it was like with those guys, horrific). Then in one trip we had a Canadian guy who snored so loud that I couldn't block it out even with my ear plugs, tinnitus and train noise....HORRIBLE. I guess one good thing is you can save a night in a hotel, but really sleeping well on a moving train that literally starts and stops every 30 minutes (much like a bus) is almost impossible. Plus it is almost cheaper now to just fly.

Oh yes, Berlin. I had been to Berlin ten years ago, and back then it reminded me of a Communist New York. Now it appears they are building up everywhere and there is quite a big art scene. We took a few tours of "East" and "West" Berlin, and it was fun, but really there's not too much to do. It is so big and spread out (much like Los Angeles) that it isn't very convenient to just "hop around" even when you use the subway.

We did the typical Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie sightseeing. Here's my "artistic" shot through a hole in the Berlin wall, with Charlene in West Berlin and me in East Berlin:

After almost three weeks of travel and not shaving, we took a train to the Berlin Airport and flew back to Paris...the noisy, dirty streets of Paris never felt or smelled so good!

I'd highly, highly recommend to anyone to check out Eastern Europe. Very easy convenient travel, amazing food and drinks at very cheap prices, a lot of things to see and just an overall great time.