DC En Couleur

The need to craft words about the city falls away, for once you walk its wide open boulevards, there is no escaping the aura of power that envelopes it. Tangibly at that. Classic row houses lined up on broad, leafy avenues, impressive buildings of embassies and trade unions, grand hotels and saloons, followed by resplendent federal buildings and museums with their decided partiality for classical architecture, the many Ionic column, the mythological figures carved upon the facades… oh, but our senses were awash with these visions of grandeur. And all this, the conception of a Frenchman who in the late 1700s came upon a rolling landscape of hills and plantations, forests and marshes, at the confluence of two rivers. Together with the first president of the United States, Pierre Charles L’Enfant laid out an architectural groundwork for the city, imparting it with unequivocal majesty, but died without receiving payment and recognition.

It’s been a long-drawn-out two hundred years and more, Monsieur L’Enfant, but maybe, just maybe, you would strut its streets with pleasure, pronouncing it Ç’est Magnifique, even as you cock an eyebrow at the girl who walks past you with her mane of flaming brilliance and air of nonchalance.

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Again, in colour. Do you prefer the monochromatic version of it more?
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Colour, in DC

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The Commissary
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Samuel Hahnemann Monument. In memory of the German physician who founded the branch of alternative medicine called Homeopathy. 
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The Omani cultural center in DC
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Old Catholic churches

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The White House
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Trump and his admirers. Seen outside The White House.

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High-wheel bicycle for men. The Columbia Light Roadster, 1886. Spotted at The National Museum of American History.
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Apple Macintosh. The first box that arrived with flair in 1984 for the sum of $2,500. What a long way we have come!

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First Lady Caroline Harrison’s modest velvet-satin evening gown in burgundy and grey
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A New York dressmaker fashioned this gold damask and cream satin gown for Lucy Hayes, the first First Lady to boast of a college degree.
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First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s state dinner dress by Oleg Cassini in yellow silk, with an overlay of crepe chiffon, and her costume pearl necklace.
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Another Oleg Cassini grey brocade silk ensemble for Jackie Kennedy

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Curious stranger

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Us 
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Capitol Hill

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Library of Congress

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Shots from within the Library

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Minerva at the Library of Congress
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Feeling fizzy at Fiola Mare
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Lusciously grilled octopus, branzino, langoustine and lobster
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Raviolo Carbonara with black truffles and Beech mushrooms
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The National Monument
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Granite and marble come together in this imperial memorial to Thomas Jefferson

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National Monument through the columns of Jefferson Memorial

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Twilight on the Potomac

One Sizzling Day in Washington DC

If only there were two Tuesdays in a week, I would have been here more often banging on about my thoughts. But we steal what moments we can from life, and here I am,  words fuelled by the mellow gorgeousness of a red wine spreading itself slowly but surely through my senses (written last night). Enough has happened in the last few weeks. In reverse, my in-laws left yesterday, we did a random day trip or two into the American countryside, walked around the city with our noses in the air, primed for the scent of good food, earned myself a second-degree burn while baking eggs (I mean the ignominy of it, it was not even a big beautiful cake), ran almost everyday in the early hours of the morning, met new people at dinners and lunches (more than we usually do, recluses that we are), played hours and hours of poker with the in-laws, lost more than I should have.

Then, we were in Washington DC for a scant day and a half. Adi’s parents were staying at his maternal uncle’s, so we sneaked in a day at a neat hotel downtown, The Darcy, which we booked using our stash of hotel points.

Now it was hot. So hot. Our faces started melting as soon as we finished breakfast in a large coffeehouse-cum-bar called The Commissary and headed towards The White House, a few minutes away from the hotel. Trump loitered with a large black umbrella outside The White House, and there were people standing outside with placards about his immigration policies. But it was rather underwhelming. The famous official residence of the president. At least, going by our experiences of just swinging by it. You need to book ahead for a tour.

We inched towards the Washington Monument instead, passing by grand buildings with plenty of classical colonnades and carvings of gods and goddesses. All along we were struck by this niggling sense of déjà vu. A summer’s day of moving desultorily about Vienna two summers ago, walking across the vast grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace which seemed to reflect heat, and subsequently dissolving into a stupor back in the delicious air conditioning of the hotel room.

In the shadow of the tall obelisk, the sun beating down mercilessly above our heads, we scuttled to a museum where we sniggered at modern inventions such as the first Macintosh 128K. It looked the part of an antiquated box. There were the costumes of the  first ladies to arrest the attention too. You will see photos of them by and by.

Outside in the sultry embrace of the sun, we gawped at the Smithsonian Castle. An elaborate concoction with its towers and turrets of red sandstone, wondering at the incongruity of it all. The nationality of the man who had founded it. John Smithson was a British subject. But most importantly, he was a great traveller, chemist and mineralogist. He studied studied everything that incited his curiosity. Count in the dynamics behind the nature of electricity,  a lady’s tear, volcanoes, better ways of brewing coffee, and the discovery of a mineral that was named Smithsonite for him. But what percolated to this traveller as she drank of the fountains of knowledge installed through this man’s vast donations to a place he had never visited, is the legacy of his philosophy. Smithson believed that knowledge has the power to bring man greatness and happiness.

When we could take take the heat no more, we dragged ourselves to Capitol Hill, and then the Library of Congress, gawped more at its lavish interiors of frieze, murals and high dome; in between, realising that my newly acquired watch had slipped off my wrists at some point during our walks about the city. Yet exhaustion had done a bang-up number on us. All we could think of was the hotel room, where we proceeded to collapse on the bed in an unsightly heap.

Such were our experiences in DC, but it was redeemed by a whirl through it during the evening when its lit-up beauty did us in. The reflection of the obelisk in the Potomac as a man fished in the river and the statuesque memorial to Mr. Jefferson. Ah, it was one of those moments during our travels when everything acquired a shimmering aura, as of the liquid mercury I swirled with fascination during Chemistry lab classes in high school.

It was an oddly satisfying day, even though we had missed most of the museums and to-do things on my list. We knew the city needed time and this knowledge set us free to mark the finale with an exorbitant but sumptuous seafood repast at an Italian restaurant on the Potomac. It was a strange evening that, at Fiola Mare. We tend to gravitate towards intimate places where people don’t carry the mantle of pretension. Inside this fine-dining restaurant’s darkly lit bar, I found women with smoky black eyes and men with silver hair and craggy faces cast flinty stares around them. It was almost as if they wore masks. It might as well have been the reflections of an evening of sparkling wine. Who knows, but we culled a few stories of the rich and famous who are patrons of Fiola Mare. The Ukrainian girl who served us was chatty. She talked about many things. About life in a city far, far away from her small hometown near Kiev, the difficulty of her mother ever visiting her because of visa restrictions, the professional highs of serving Michelle Obama ‘just the other day’, the busy charm of NYC, and the like. Conversations — randomly chanced upon — are often the best souvenirs of any holiday.

So from this briefest of city explorations, I present to you D.C. in its black and white avataar. There will be another post with more photos as well — since you know I am not a woman of few words or photos.

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Four men at a bus stop. In the humidity of that August Saturday, the sight of the old man with his shock of chalk-white hair, suited up for the day, made me smile.
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The Commissary

 

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One hungry soul at The Commissary
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The Nat Geo Museum
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Nineteenth-century Greek Revival Episcopal churches in Lafayette Square. St. John’s Episcopal Church.
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The White House. In the forefront is the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the first bronze statue cast in the country.
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Museums along the National Mall
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National Museum of African American History and Culture
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National Museum of American History
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The Star-Spangled Banner inside the National Museum of American History
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Classically sculpted George Washington as a leader during war and peace, at the National Museum of American History.
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National Museum of Natural History

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Capitol Hill
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It’s not too bad, eh?
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Because I like different angles on a place

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The Library of Congress
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Minerva

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Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress
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Modish Fiola Mare, in Georgetown.
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Platter of gorgeously grilled seafood
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An evening by the Potomac

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Jefferson Memorial

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Jefferson Memorial
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Thomas Jefferson

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Tra-la-la the Road Took Us to Hoosick

There is something exclusive about a road trip. The informality of it itself is just too comforting. It is like stopping at that street stall or the food market for a bite to eat as opposed to being seated in a formal affair of a restaurant. Now there is nothing wrong with dressing up and hitting the fancy spots in town once awhile, but casual places – they appeal to your innie hippie. Nobody gives a hoot about anything except for no-nonsense good nosh. Road trips mark a similar note of freedom – from the harassing dictates of air travel. Take off your belt sir, those shoes ma’am, that watch please and where are you prancing off in the jacket? That has to come off too, you nitwit.

So we embarked on a road trip. Paul Theroux deems it to be the ‘better way, a truer way, the old way’. In our first road trip since we moved to the US, we set off from our quiet quarter in New Jersey for the wholesome mountains in the north-east of the country. We had our eyes on Vermont which I had gushed over as maple country earlier – I know the affront I cause you Canadians. I also appreciate that you can hold a hand over your heart and bear it with interjections of incredulity. Blame it upon the Abenakis, the Native American tribes in that part of the country. They hit upon it with the random strike of a tomahawk into a sugar maple tree trunk. So the story goes. Warmed by the spring sun the tree yielded sap from the cut and of course a clever chief wife gathered it in a birch bark container. She poured it over food cooking away in a pot and found a veneer of sweet stickiness later. The result? The chief’s wife was putty in its fluid hands – just like I am.

In those days, there were no seaports near Vermont to import sugar.  These tribes had to depend upon the yield of the land and there it was – liquid gold waiting to be tapped out. From there onto our breakfast plates at greasy diners. Now how can anyone complain? The arteries might but today’s not their day.

We carried on down the open highway beneath skies that were grey. Gradually they acquired a clear blue tone, broad brush strokes of white streaming across them as in a painting. Past us sped by gangs of hurly burly Harley motorcyclists, mountain ranges melted into each other in a symphony of green in the Catskills, the broad Hudson snaked by cities modern and old in upstate New York, Saratoga Springs, Albany, Troy, Schenectady. Semi-dried up creeks. Rivers with Native American names added an old-world touch. Yes even before the ‘Old World’ must have chanced upon what they deemed as the ‘New’. Rustic barns and silos showed up. I find myself particularly charmed by the iconic American Gambrel barn. I can picture life within its walls. Lofty ceiling. Cosy, quaint vibes. Lace curtains and old teapots. Piles of scones and cucumber sandwiches with pitchers of iced tea. Grubby hands and happy faces.

Then just before we entered Vermont, we hit gold. The last town within the precincts of Rensselaer County in New York is a small town called Hoosick. By the Hoosic River. Once there would have been the Mahicans here in the 17th century. It is a land replete with memories, awash with history, stories of Mahicans who were the Eastern Algonquian tribes, the Iroquois who fought with the Mahicans and their French allies for control over the beaver fur trade, of battles between British and American forces at the Walloomsac river, and so many more that I do not know of.

Hoosick is a capsule of Americana. There stands an antique store at the crossroads of the town that looks as aged as the old couple who own it. White hair, rosy cheeks, frail bodies and keen minds. That store induced nostalgia. Old China sets pegged at throwaway prices, vintage model train engines and railroads, bunches of sepia-toned photos lying in baskets…they make you wonder about the people who owned them. Their lives, ambitions, dreams. So many stories tucked into those objects. And then a voice asking me not to dawdle. ‘Just get out already. I want to reach Manchester soon.’ My beloved. I stayed inside dawdling even more thoroughly if one can do that. And I grumbled to the old man. At which he warned Adi, ‘Now you do not want to be doing that. There will be burnt toast tomorrow.’ Adi sighed. ‘If only you knew, I get no toast.’

I did bag a coffee table book on Norman Rockwell that had a few names scrawled inside in blue ink. Four girls had gifted it to Gert in January 1974 for his birthday. Happy as a clam I pranced out of the shop after a chat with the old man about New Jersey – I confess, he talked about old roads and things that we had no idea about – and after salivating over a cornucopia of marshmallow treats, fat round cookies, Amish goodies and black bear figurines declaring, why they are just fluffy, not fat, we were geared up to be taken over by the immense green beauty called Vermont.

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Gambrel barns by the highway
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Gangs of Hoboken
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Fresh apples, anyone?
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More traditional barns
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The Hudson
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Green fields and barns criss-crossed above by bulky networks of cables and electrical wiring

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Farms and silos
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Hoot hoot, you are in Hoosick
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For a healthy dose of Americana

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There’s no dragging him away from bears. Now when a real one turns up…

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When a village offers you the promise of giant ice cream cones, you do not scoff at it, yeah right, you simply scoff it.
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The Eberly brothers are the celebrities of Hoosick. Below is a clip of Bob Eberly, if you can lend yourself to those dulcet tones – let yourself be swept to a different era.
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Vintage draws
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Sheepish posers. The moose and I.

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References to the Battle of Bennington which was a turning point in the American Revolution.

P.S.: Do drop by at Lumber Jack’s for a taste of their maple latte and maple drizzled fried-egg-bacon-cheese-muffins. The battle of the senses over which wins it – sweet or salty – will surely trump every other thought for the moment. You might find yourself happier than a possum digging into a sweet potato.

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Vienna – II

The city on the Danube just swept us off our feet. How could I just compress all of her beauty in one post? Here’s a follow-up pictorial journey through the city during this year’s very hot summer.

It was so sultry the morning on which we went to Schönbrunn Palace that we sank into a deep torpor once we got back to the hotel room. Now the last time I ever remember sleeping in the afternoon is in Calcutta where siestas are a given every day. As a result when we woke up in the evening, we felt discombobulated. But ah, the wonders of the night romps after. It was almost magical. That gusty night of walking around the city hand in hand and discovering what classical enchantment is.

Oh yes, our Viennese holiday was special. We met up a pair of my close friends one evening and we drank into the wee hours, chatting with buskers and demanding songs of them in the middle of the night, like it was just the thing to do and like there was no tomorrow, even though they had to catch the bus to Budapest the next morning. Here’s to you, N and S, for making our time in Vienna that much special.

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A shot from our last day in Vienna when we felt quite wistful and loath to leave it. In the backdrop are horse carriages and the grandness of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
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St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I loved the way those richly coloured tiles form such a contrast to the limestone exteriors of the cathedral. The 12th century cathedral is a symbol of the importance of Vienna in the religious scheme of affairs in German civilisation.
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The pretty, canopied rickshaws of Vienna
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Bumping into one of my best friends in Vienna is a happy, nostalgic memory from the trip.
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Empress Sisi. Did I not mention in the earlier post on how she is everywhere in the city?
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Sisi promotes everything from chocolates to bags.
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My beloved and a tall glass of beer to recover from the stuffiness of that sultry day.
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Schnitzel accompanied by the Austrian bread dumpling that is called Semmelknödel
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That is a Chicken Schnitzel because I love birds
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“Vienna wasn’t just a city, it was a tone that either one carries forever in one’s soul or one does not. It was the most beautiful thing in my life.” Sándor Márai
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Hofburg Palace. The former imperial residence in the heart of the city.
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The ‘People’s Garden’ as it is known in Vienna. The Viennese name for it is Volksgarten and it is located within the Innere Stadt. It was once a part of the Hofburg Palace and was built over the fortifications of the city that were destroyed by Napoleon in 1809.
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In the 19th century Volksgarten stands a temple dedicated to Theseus, the mythical king of Athens.  It replicates the 2500 year old Temple of Hephaestus in Athens which was originally believed to have housed the remains of Theseus.
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The rose garden in Volksgarten
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Anyone for meringues?
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Schönbrunn Palace. The imperial summer residence of the House of Habsburgs. Sisi lived here for a fair part of her short life.
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The stunning grounds where Sisi loved to go on her regular walks. At the end you can see a Gloriette (a word derived from the French word ‘loire’ which means ‘little room’ and is typically an elevated structure). Emperor Franz Joseph I sat here when he has his breakfast, dined and watched festivities. Certainly quite a view he had everyday.
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Heritage in the house. Rozet & Fischmeister on Kohlmarkt is a former imperial and royal purveyor of silverware and historic jewellery.  It was founded in the 18th century by a Huguenot called Nikolaus Rozet who had arrived in Vienna from France. In the mid 20th century, it was taken over by Georg Fischmeister and it has been in the family since.
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The gilded turquoise dome of the Hofburg peeks from the background.
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Atmospheric dining
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Where we sat for a pint and a Euro match
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It was quite a lovely pub with a traditional touch
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Austrian beers in Pfiff & Co.
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Alleys with traditional eateries
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“Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true/ When will you realize, Vienna waits for you.” Billy Joel
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In Bäckerstrasse, where we came across one of the oldest beisls in Vienna. A beisl is a typical Viennese feature. It is an 18th century inn that offers local dishes within its wood-panelled walls, interspersed with wooden furniture and chequered tablecloths along with blackboards displaying what is available for your meal.
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“And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moths.” Leonard Cohen
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Johann Figlmüller opened this beisl which became a symbol of the Viennese way of life, where you can always drop in for a lovely local meal and leisurely chats over some nice wines. Their schnitzels are purportedly the best.
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Husband and the horse in Hofburg square.
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The night my friends and I, along with the husband, took over the streets of Vienna in the most raucous way possible.
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Inside the iconic Demel. “The coffee shop played a big role in Vienna of 1900. Rents were sky high, housing was difficult to come by, your apartment probably wasn’t heated, and so you went to the coffee shop. You went to the coffee shop because it was warm, because it was great Viennese coffee, and you went for the conversation and the company.” Eric Weiner
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Viennese sights and spires
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“The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with asphalt.” Karl Kraus
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“When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” Napoleon Bonaparte
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The Plague Column. A 69-foot Holy Trinity Column in a Baroque style that commemorates the worst plague in Vienna, during the year 1679. Thousands died. Roughly about 75,000. On it various figures, religious and angelical, and then one of a praying Emperor Leopold I.
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Neue Burg, from the balcony of which, in 1938, Adolf Hitler proclaimed the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria by the Third Reich.
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Charming shop windows
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A convent resident
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“You need some reason why Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn in the 18th century all flocked to Vienna. What was it about Vienna? They must have known on some level that that is where they would flourish. It’s what biologists call “selective migration.” Eric Weiner
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“And I’ll dance with you in Vienna, I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise. The hyacinth wild on my shoulder my mouth on the dew of your thighs. And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moss. And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty, my cheap violin and my cross.” Leonard Cohen
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Albertinaplatz. “Vienna is a handsome, lively city, and pleases me exceedingly.” Frederic Chopin
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Here’s looking up at the baroque facade of Schönbrunn, which was built on a floodplain of the Wien, the river that flows through Vienna. The land was acquired by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II in 1569. It started off pretty much like Versailles, as a hunting and recreation lodge.
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The palace was requisitioned after WW II and during the Allied Occupation of Austria, between 1945—1955, to serve as the offices of the British Delegation to the Allied Commission for Austria. It was also the headquarters of the British Military Garrison.
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Privy Garden, Schönbrunn Palace.
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Privy Garden, Schönbrunn Palace
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“White as a winding sheet, Masks blowing down the street: Moscow, Paris London, Vienna all are undone. The drums of death are mumbling, rumbling, and tumbling, Mumbling, rumbling, and tumbling, The world’s floors are quaking, crumbling and breaking.” Edith Sitwell
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Mozart’s apartments in Vienna. “Someone like Mozart moves from Salzburg to Vienna, where all of the sudden he finds this musical city that is not only asking for music, it’s demanding music of him.” Eric Weiner
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Inside Mozart’s apartments. “Music was literally in the air at the time, the Vienna of 1780. Everybody played music, classical music. There were in fact so many musicians that in apartment buildings people had to come up with a schedule – you practice at 5 p.m., I’ll practice at 6 p.m. That way the music didn’t collide with one another.” Eric Weiner
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Hercules fights the Hydra at the Hofburg. Those people in the horse trap seem awfully calm about a mythic figure coming down with a club above them though.
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“Lord, if there is a heartache Vienna cannot cure I hope never to feel it. I came home cured of everything except Vienna.” Storm Jameson

If you liked browsing this, there is a post you might like Vienna – I.

 

Sublimely Yours, Sintra

Two centuries before I trudged up the densely wooded hills of Serra de Sintra, the mountains of Sintra that is, the ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Lord Byron had spent time falling in love with its ‘variegated maze of mount and glen’. My arrival in the foothills of Portugal’s resort town and former royal haunt of Sintra was not a mistake as the poet’s was. Byron had set sail for Malta, missed the boat, and taken off to Lisbon instead. That is how he found himself in ‘Cintra’ enchanted by its ‘palaces and gardens rising in the midst of rocks, cataracts and precipices; convents on stupendous heights’.

His voice tinged with horror, a local in Lisbon had insisted, ‘You cannot be in Lisbon and Not go to Sintra’. The Portuguese adore this town which lies 20 miles west of their capital city. Even the royals coveted it so that they transformed it into their summer retreat.

As the train pulled into the station, my eyes fell upon a grey mist hanging atop a panoply of trees and in the backdrop, aged buildings in vivid reds and yellows. I could smell the promise of faded glory in the air.

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Town hall
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Yellow-blue fountains spewing drinking water
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Syvan Sintra

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At the old train station made up of intricate wrought iron railings and a white and brick red front decorated with azulejos, I spent time warding off a tout advertising an electric car tour.

In the heart of old town, a pair of unconventional conical chimneys stuck out above a rambling white palace. The Palacio Nacional de Sintra (National Palace of Sintra). A big, plain summer retreat — with Moorish touches to its architecture — for the Portuguese royal family since the 14th century. Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish author, described the chimneys as giant champagne bottles.

Through a maze of restaurants, cafés and boutiques, I climbed stairs and walked the length of narrow alleys, stopping to gaze at geometric azulejos, gulping down shots of Ginjinha, that wonderful Portuguese liqueur made with an infusion of morello cherries. They give you edible chocolate cups along with the liqueur to seal in the heady flavours.

Spooky statues of angels playing guitars and the strains of soulful Fado wafting from the interiors of a restaurant evoked fatefulness and melancholia on a foggy day. I could not have asked for a more atmospheric walk. Steep paths, buildings matted with ivy, yellowed Santa Maria Churches and then a pink, dilapidated casa with a marble plaque, ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ inscribed upon it. The writer had lived his fairy-tale in Sintra in 1866 when he visited Portugal, it seems.

A few more minutes of hiking with my heart fit to burst and I reached mossy stone stairs leading up to the 9th-century Castle of the Moors. The fog was a wall — so dense that I could not see the town at all. A steady pitter-patter of water drained off the thick foliage above yet not a drop fell upon my head. I had the run of that forest terrain to myself, giant boulders sheathed in moss, lichens and ferns. An enchanted forest, the dream of a king who wanted to be surrounded by sylvan beauty.

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The railway station 

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Pampilhos. A confection from the Central-West region of Santarém in Portugal that is a thinly rolled sponge cake filled with gooey egg yolk cream called ovos-moles (soft eggs).

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The 18th-century mansion and boutique hotel where Byron put up when he visited Sintra
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Castelos dos Mouros, the Castle of the Moors, crowns the hills above Sintra
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Cafés popular with the swish crowd
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Mourisca fountain

 

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The forest that leads to the Castle of the Moors 
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Devotee at the door of a church

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The National Palace
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Conical chimneys of the palace 
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Azulejos
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Hans Christian Andersen’s villa in pink

 

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“Do you know how rare it is for Sintra to get blue skies?” said a Lisbon cabbie during my days of rambling about the city. On a sunny day, swathes of cloud hanging above me in a blue, blue sky, I returned to it. I opted for a hop-on hop-off bus that would take me to the westernmost point of the country. Cabo da Roca. The bus wound its way through woods offering views above town, revealing mansions such as Chalet Biester to curious eyes, and when we had ascended all the way to the top, I walked the ramparts of Castelos dos Mouros. Ivy-clad battlements, thick woods out of which chalets and palaces, and the red roofs of buildings in old town reared their heads. I could have been a medieval figure standing on a fantasy fortress, gazing at the azure Atlantic, scanning it for invaders.

The most remarkable sight that popped up by and by was Pena Palace. All pink towers, yellow towers and turrets and golden dome against the backdrop of a cobalt blue sky and billowing white clouds. A product of the imagination of Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a nephew of mad Ludwig who built the most eccentric Bavarian castles. It figured.

Further along the woodland paths beneath the granite massifs of the mountains, past tiled fountains and giant redwoods, were more romantic pieces of architecture. But my eyes were held by the sumptuous beauty of the Quinta da Regaleira. A mansion unlike any I have seen, conceptualised by a Brazilian coffee tycoon and designed by an Italian opera set designer. Turrets and finials, drooping willows and wisteria, gardens filled with follies, grottoes and fountains and lakes. You get the picture.

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The ramparts of Castelos dos Mouros. Pena Palace shows up above on the left.
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Shy kitty in Castelos dos Mouros

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Chalet Biester with its turrets below
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Quinta da Regaleira

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Towards afternoon I boarded the hop-on hop-off to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in mainland Portugal and Europe. We passed by pristine sandy beaches and wine-growing villages. When we arrived at Cabo da Roca, the driver gave us about 30 minutes. A red and white lighthouse, the landmark cross on the cliff with an inscription by the Portuguese poet Luis de Camões stating: ‘Land ends and the sea begins’; I sauntered along to the furthest end of the cliff where it fell below into a deserted beach and then the turquoise blue waters. On my way back, I had 10 minutes at hand, and so I dawdled around clicking photos of a trio of enthusiastic tourists. Then just as I started moving in the direction of the parking lot, I spied to my utter disbelief, the red top of the bus moving away at great speed.

Bald bastard had left me behind.

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Beaches that precede Cabo da Roca
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Cabo da Roca and the landmark cross
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 Cabo da Roca lighthouse

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After hyperventilating for the most part of an hour, I took a local bus into town, my senses frayed to bits by the caterwauling of a horde of school children. Anyway it turned out to be an adventure in the sublime environs of that fairytale place called Sintra.