Category Archives: Europe

Soulful Music in a Surprising Austrian Venue

New museum hosted talented artist whose songs stir the soul.

AngelehnerMuseumWe expect cutting-edge museums and compelling musical performances in world cities, but not in smaller, less-known places. One such place is Wels in northern Austria. It’s not near the music meccas of Vienna or Salzburg, but it has a firm spot on the Austrian cultural map thanks to the Angerlehner Museum, which opened in September 2013 to showcase the private contemporary art collection of Heinz J. Angerlehner.

Like art museums elsewhere, it hosts concerts and recitals of surprising quality and variety.  Just as the art is contemporary, the music is often of our own time. One such was an October performance by Latin American/Austrian musician Jessie Ann de Angelo. Her commentary on pictures of the exhibition comprised clever words and personal associations. She also dedicated one of her songs, performed evergreens or her own compositions to each work of art. It was the most successful performance in the museum’s short history. Whatever the musical era, Austrian audience tend to have finely tuned ears, and the accolades she received were not just for her technical gifts but for the soul and passion she brought to the performance.

Jessie Ann de Angelo in concert.
Jessie Ann de Angelo in concert.

As a friend whom I trust on such matters put it  “It was with fireworks of musicality and a remarkable proficiency that she released the feelings expressed by the pictures without becoming too sentimental. It was singing that, as was once described by Rossini, will be heard by the soul (“Il cantar che nell’anima se sente”).”

In this performance, as in others, Jessie Ann’s music moved the audience’s hearts, her vitality and joy of life were contagious, and the associations global. For instance, the rhythm of a Rhumba Catalán perfectly fitted a picture painted by the Chinese painter Xianwei Zhu, and even ripped the listeners from their seats.

She dramatically accompanied a picture that communicated a fear of heights and vertigo with a stirring song from Paraguay. It tells the story of a child who climbs a tree before his proud parents’ eyes and then suddenly falls.  When the child’s soul rises to the sky as a small blue bird, everybody in the auditorium responded. The universal question seemed to be: Is there a greater misfortune than the memories of lost happiness?

In this performance, the program by turns expressed clever and worthy thoughts or told cheerful stories. And she made the listeners feel her happiness at the privilege and honor of playing for them on that evening. A rare gift that roused a feeling of mutual esteem and gratefulness reciprocated by her fans.

Jessie Ann might come on stage in a costume like the enormous boa below stretched out to mimic a condor’s wingspan or a tall fruit and flower headdress in the manner of Carmen Miranda, but when she gets down to the business of music, she is absolutely compelling. Here’s a YouTube video of a performance:

I wonder whether she will ever tour in the United States — and if so, by a stretch in Colorado. Otherwise, it is necessary to travel to Austria or elsewhere in Europe to hear her. Come too think of it, that’s another reason to go.

Wow Fare on WOW Air

Ultra-cheap airline to offer $99 fare to Iceland

WOWAirThe latest à la carte airline offering super-cheap base fares is WOW Air, an Iceland-based carrier that I never herd of — even when I was in Iceland. It recently announced that this coming March, it will begin non-stop service from both Boston and Baltimore to Reykjavik for introductory fares as low as $99 one-way and one-stop flights onward to London and Copenhagen starting at $228 round-trip. The airline will begin offering the flights next March.

Like every other deep-discount carrier, a ticket on WOW Air will buy a seat, a mini-tray table and an 11-pound carry-on limit. Everything else will cost extra. A carry-on heavier than 11 pounds will be $29 additional when booked online or $48 at the airport. Checked luggage will be even more expensive,  each piece  adds an extra $48 online or $67 at check-in. And extra leg room, pre-assigned seats and food will add to the total cost of a the journey. Flying round-trip? Multiply by 2.

WOW Air says that it will be able to cross the Atlantic for so little thanks to some built-in efficiencies. Online sales and marketing enable it to avoid paying booking engines or travel agents. This is similar to other low-fare carriers and even Southwest. It currently a mini-fleet of only four aircraft. In theory, by refueling in Iceland, WOW can fly smaller planes, which is fuel-saving. Another fuel benefit is that planes don’t need to carry sufficient fuel for the entire transatlantic flight.

In addition to intra-European and US, Norwegian Air started flying cheap London-New York flights over the summer, but flights were reportedly plagued with delays, which could be a real issue for small-fleet WOW. Once a small-fleet airline’s flights get off schedule, there’s little redundancy and therefore difficult to get back on track again.  Discount airlines currently control nearly 0ne-third of the Noth American market (that must include Southwest) and more than one-third of it in Europe, but only Norwegian flies the transatlantic.

There’s room for growth but also for miscalculation.

 

Berlin’s Festival of Lights Kicks Off

Germany’s capital’s landmarks bathed in multi-colored creativity & splendor.

VisitBerlin-logoMove over, Paris. The 10th annual Berlin Festival of Lights transforms it into a city of lights for 10 days, from October 10-19 — if not the City of Lights. Such landmarks as the Brandenburg Gate, the TV Tower, the Berliner Dom Cathedral, the Funkturm Radio tower, the Olympic stadium and many other buildings and squares dazzle with the colorful light projections each night as German and foreign artists use building façades as canvases for light installations and projections. The result is an extraordinary cityscape during the Festival of Lights. Locals and visitors enjoy special tours by bus, bicycle, carriage, limousine, boat or hot air balloon to view as many of the illuminated buildings as possible.

A tapestry of lights blankets the city during the 10th annual Berlin Festival of Lights.
A tapestry of lights blankets the city during the 10th annual Berlin Festival of Lights.

Art functions and events will also take place during the Festival. For example, during the Open Door Night, light is shed on what goes on behind the scenes in the buildings lit up for the Festival. And the Jazz in den Ministergärten music festival will put the state liaison offices for Brandenburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein in an unfamiliar light. Berlin Cathedral is the venue for Lumissimo,  concert and laser show. An event calendar lays it out day by day. Visit Berlin provides overall visitor information.

Travel Switzerland All Ways on One Pass

Swiss Travel System new version of previous passes.

SwissTravelSystem-jpgWhen I visit a city, I like to have a multi-day transit ticket in my pocket. It’s liberating to get on and off buses, underground trains, streetcars and more without concerning myself with having the right amount of money on me. I like to be able to take a short ride to save time, escape a cloudburst or get off my feet now and again. When a whole country has a comprehensive transportation pass, all the better. When the country is Switzerland, the execution of the concept is impeccable.

The new Swiss Travel System, which goes into effect on January 1, is an upgrade to the long-running Swiss Pass. The new Swiss Travel System pass still includes unrestricted travel by train, bus and boat. It additionally features 50 per cent off most mountain railways, unlimited travel on municipal public transport in 75 towns and cities and admission to 480 museums. It also enables youngsters to age 16 to ride free when traveling with parents who have bought the Swiss Travel System passes, which come in three-, four-, eight-  or and even 15-day “denominations.”  One previous feature now removed are discounts on some city sightseeing tours. The new Swiss Travel System pass will be available through Rail Europe.

South Coast Scenes in Iceland

Travel along Highway 1 (aka, the Ring Road) yields bucolic and natural scenes.

IcelandTravel-tiny logo.-jpgGuðmundur Trlyingsson driver-guide Jakob Narfi Hjaltason piloted our small group along the South Coast of Iceland before the official start of the Society of American Travel Writers convention in Reykjavik. Our four-day itinerary started under overcast skies but pleasant weather. As we drove farther east, clouds settled lower and we experienced periodic sprinkles. Any hopes of seeing the Northern Lights diminished with every mile.

When we reached the small port town of Hofn on the southeast coast, the sprinkles escalated to driving through pounding rain and heavy fog. Planes were grounded so instead of flying back to Reykjavik on the southwest coast, Jakob drove us back. We retraced our route in reverse, reinforcing what we had seen. Here are images from some of the sights we saw and experiences we had — and I’m not going to attempt to include all the difficult-to-pronounce and difficult-to-remember names. You need to visit and see for yourself.

From Reykjavik – Day One

Icelandic horses on their pasture. These small, spirited horses are ridden for pleasure by Icelanders and visitors alike, and they also star in indoor and outdoor horse shows.
Icelandic horses on their pasture. These small, spirited horses are ridden for pleasure by Icelanders and visitors alike, and they also star in indoor and outdoor horse shows.
The Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur interprets the Njals Saga. I've written a separate post about it.
The Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur interprets the Njals Saga. I’ve written a separate post about it.
A short trail leads behind this waterfall -- an unusual experience, even in waterfall-rich Iceland.
A short trail leads behind this waterfall — an unusual experience, even in waterfall-rich Iceland.

Day Two

This higher waterfall can conventionally be viewed only from the front.
This higher waterfall can conventionally be viewed only from the front.
We hiked up a trail in Katla Geopark for a mile or more. The park was created in 2010 to protect the area of the Katla Volcano, which is under glacial ice and had been predicted be "the next" volcano to erupt. The prediction was off Bardarbunga to the north has been erupting since August.
We hiked up a trail in Katla Geopark for a mile or more. The park was created in 2010 to protect the area of the Katla Volcano, which is under glacial ice and had been predicted be “the next” volcano to erupt. The prediction was off Bardarbunga to the north has been erupting since August.
We put on crampons but didn't have to rope up as we crossed a lateral moraine for a short circuit on glacial ice.
We put on crampons but didn’t have to rope up as we crossed a lateral moraine for a short circuit on glacial ice. Helmets were also provided, but unlike in the US, we didn’t have to sign any liability waiver.
An easily avoided crevasse, like the rest of the exposed ice, carrying debris and therefore not pure winter-white.
An easily avoided crevasse, like the rest of the exposed ice, carrying debris and therefore not pure winter-white.
With Arnkell "Keli" Aronson, a young guide with Arcanum, a guide service (www.arcanum.is).
With Arnkell “Keli” Aronson, a young guide with Arcanum, a guide service (www.arcanum.is).

Continue reading South Coast Scenes in Iceland

In Praise of Prague’s Public Transport

Streetcars and buses and subways and ferries, oh my!

PragueCoatOfArmsEvery European city has public transportation that puts American cities to shame. Prague’s system comprises three Metro lines that reach all corners of the city. Of course, there are streetcars and buses on the surface. A few ferries across the Vlatava River, which in German and English is known as the Moldau, thanks to Czech composer is Bedřich Smetana’s Romantic symphony. Also, an open-air funicular shuttles up and down Petřín Hill, where a replica of the Eiffel Tower perches and the views are grand.

Prague's impressive public transportation map Service begins at 4:30 a.m. Most lines operate until midnight, but crucial ones run 24/7.
Prague’s impressive public transportation map Service begins at 4:30 a.m. Most lines operate until midnight, but crucial ones run 24/7.

At the airport on arrival, I bought a 5-day card for about $22 that included all that public transportation plus free or reduced admission to numerous fee-charging sites all over the city — including the famous Prague Castle. I always buy such unlimited-use cards, which is not only economical but flexible. In Prague, you validate the card at first use, stick it in your purse or pocket and never take it out unless some official comes around to check.

I love walking around cities, poking into small streets and quiet neighborhoods, but I often just hop on and off a streetcar or bus at will. Sometimes I get tired or hungry and want to ride just a short distance, or sometimes the weather turns — or sometimes I like to ride to the end of the line just to see what’s along the way.

 

AirBnB: First Time But Not the Last

Prague apartment more than meets expectations.

AirBnB-logoThe AirBnB listing promised an awesome view and a great location in central Prague. The photo looked good. The price was right (under $250 for four nights). There’s WiFi in the apartment. So after checking with friends who have not only stayed but also hosted via AirBnB, I was in. I corresponded a bit with Katerina, my hostess. When I arrived, her friend Martina let me in, showed me around and gave me the keys. Katerina, it turns out, is in Barcelona. That means that I have the whole apartment to myself — except, of course, Katerina’s own room.

The baronial door between two skateboard shops pretty much symbolizes Prague today --- a co-existence between the traditional and new.
The baronial door to Katerina’s apartment building is between two skateboard shops, which pretty much symbolizes Prague today — a co-existence between the timeless and the hip. The concrete rectangle with the steel railing is the entrance to the Metro.

The apartment is on the third floor. Since Europeans label the ground floor as 0, it is on what we would call the fourth floor. Taking into account that the ceilings are 10 or 12 feet high, it is like being on an American fifth or sixth floor. There is no elevator. I travel light, especially in summer, and had just one small roll-aboard, a small purse and a daypack for my netbook, assorted battery chargers, electrical cables and adapters. Still, I was grateful that Martina, who is probably half my age, offered to take my little suitcase. The ascent is worthwhile for the apartment’s artsy ambiance and great river view.

My room features high ceilings, a comfortable bed, a small desk and a bathroom that I might have had to share with my hostess if she were here.
My room features high ceilings, a comfortable bed, a small desk, fresh flowers and a bathroom that I might have had to share with Katerina if she were here.

Continue reading AirBnB: First Time But Not the Last

Vicarious Visit to France Via the Tour de France

TV coverage is about cycling — and scenery.

TourDeFrance-logoThe 2014 Tour de France is beginning in a few days with three opening stages in England followed by the remainder in France. This will be an unusual route — no Alpe d’Huez, no Mont Ventoux, just nip into the Pyrenees but lots of Yorkshire. Longtime commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen know the roads and landmarks of France very well, but both are born Brits, which should make for interesting words. I really admire the French TV feed of the landscape, villages and cities on the Tour route. Every time I watch, I want to go to Europe. Right away!

TDF2014-map

 

Revisiting a Quick Trip to Greece, Part I

Eight days + one city + three islands + ferries = happy me in Greece.

My husband and I recently made a quick trip to Greece, a country I long wanted to visit. Our itinerary was the predictable “big three” (Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, with a day trip to Delos). I posted reports almost daily on my Facebook page, but so many people have asked me about the trip that I am putting it all into one post here.

I found the trip on GroupOn Travel for a very affordable package for roundtrip New York-Athens air fare, two nights at each of the three destinations including breakfast and fast ferry transport. I ended up talking directly with Go-Today, which had assembled the package. By the time I got off the phone, we had a reservation for the dates we really wanted (including one day/night more than we expected) and for a great price ($2,400 each) including air from Denver. Eureka!

Continue reading Revisiting a Quick Trip to Greece, Part I

Whole Journeys Cites International Food Festivals

Travel offshoot of natural food market lists five faves.

globeWhole Journeys, a travel branch of Whole Foods, just sent out a list of five compelling international food festivals. There’s not one that doesn’t make me want to whip out my credit card, make a reservation and go. I actually have been to the Food and Wine Class at Aspen several times, but alas, not recently. At any rate here’s the Whole Journeys list, several of which are over for this year, but there’s always 015:

  • Alacati,  Turkey. Festival of Wild Greens along the Izmir Coast. A contest involves who can gather the largest variety of  wild greens and who prepare the best recipe with them. Sounds like an event from the fertile mine of a Turkish Rene Rezapi.    It also includes concerts, races, a large farmers market and outdoor stalls selling food and crafts from Izmir.
  • Motovun, Croatia. Teran & Truffle Festival (TETA). Local winemakers who produce traditional Istrian Teran wines gather with top chefs and truffle hunters during the harvest season to feature truffle dishes.
  • Carnivale in Italy. Whole Journeys directed readers to a blog post written by Carol Sicbaldi, a Whole Foods operations manager who resides in Italy. She notes that during February towns all over Italy celebrate Carnival, “a few weeks traditionally devoted to enjoyment, pleasure and naughtiness in the period preceding the austerity of Lent. ” In the US, this period culminates with Mardi Gras.
  • Logroño, Spain’s Basque Country. Riojan Harvest Festival during which people pay homage to San Mateo, patron saint of Logroño. Young people wearing traditional dress stomp the grapes and offer the first grape juice of the season to the Virgen de la      Valvanera. Village ceremonies include Herri Kirolak, Basque rural sports that I’d never heard of, includ stone carrying and wood chopping competitions
  • Cusco, Peru. Corpus Christi Festival,  Villagers carry statues of 15 saints  for  many days to the Cathedral in Cusco.  On the eve of the main day of Corpus Christ,i twelve typical dishes including cuy, chiriuchu, huatia and chichi or prepared to represent the 12 Apostles. They do not contain meat in honor of Christ’s passion, though I don’t understand how cuy, which is guinea pig, can be meatless.
  • Aspen, Colorado. Aspen Food and Wine Classic attracts people in the food industry such as top chefs, international and domestic wine makers, cheese mongers and others, plus well-heeled foodies who are all passionate about food and wine.

Cross-posted to www.culinary-colorado.com.