Thursday, April 5, 2007

Fritz & Joanna in Europe, Day 7

Fritz wants to take a mini walk through the neighborhood. Each street is lined with small patches for those who live in the buildings who want to adopt it for gardening. Someone decided to turn a bathtub and washbasin into garden fixtures.

We end up at a plaza called Mexikoplatz. It is a plaza built on the Danube River and is dedicated to Mexico, the only nation in the world to stand up and officially say "this is not right!" before anyone could even imagine the horror of World War II.

When Hitler's Germany made its first conquest, the hostile take over of the Austrian government, Mexico stood up and protested. But Mexico's voice fell upon the deaf ears of the world. Mexico has a strong tie to Austria, for a time Mexico was under Austrian rule. I recognize the connection: to me, there is an influence of the waltz in the dancing to some Mexican tunes.

We head to the subway. Mariahilferstrasse is the next stop of the day.

It's a major shopping street where locals go to shop in the 6th district.

There is a headshop down one of the side streets that is just amazing, nothing like I ever saw in Manhattan even in the Sixties. Besides paraphernalia, they sell seeds and all the equipment to grow your own. It's legal to grow marijuana in Austria. But they draw the line at allowing the plant to flower. Then it become illegal.

We enter the bright red storefront of Totem, the 7th district store of Mr. Stench, aka Alex Wank, drummer and founder of Austria's finest death metal band, Pungent Stench. Pungent has a worldwide following, though it is a specialized fan base in the United States. Inside the store's walls are painted black, with items for sale hanging above the stacks of death metal CDs, DVDs, clothing and paraphernalia.

Alex poses with me while I wear my first Pungent Stench T-shirt, covering their 2005 Ampeauty tour. The back of the black T-shirt lists all their tour stops, the front is controversial, with a young woman "Justice" with an amputated arm. I figure, if this is how our young boys and girls soldiers are coming home from Iraq, the shirt might be uncomfortable, but is more like a reality.

Fritz and I decided to go our separate ways. Martin was having a friend over so I took a cab to hang with them while Fritz visited with Alex and had Austrian guy talk. They went to a restaurant where the locals eat. A dog was chasing his tail in the middle of the room.

They had authentic Austrian dishes. Alex is a vegetarian and had creamed spinach, fried egg and potato dumpling. Fritz had a cordon bleu schnitzel with a phenomenal breading. He said the potato dumpling was out of this world.

Fritz and Alex had a great time talking in Austrian slang. The waiter recorded the moment for history.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we wait for Fritz. The good part was that hanging with Martin was fun. I got to learn a lot about him. He is a lot like Fritz. They both know what type of music that I like and play it for me. Martin's going to college, majoring in Latin so he can study its literature. He says his English isn't good, but he's totally underestimating his grasp of the language. In fact, that's been common of all Austrians I have met on this trip so far. They all say shyly, "My English is not so good," then break out into an advanced English. If only my German were so "not so good"!

Martin's been a great host. We disrupted his life and he hasn't complained once. In this picture that Fritz took before we went home, the sad truth is that Martin's really sleeping, I'm just playing up to Fritz's camera.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Joanna & Fritz in Europe, Day 6

We begin our day at the Prater, the symbol of this neighborhood and for this entire trip. The area surrounding this covered ferris wheel is an amusement park. Fritz promises to show me a little known secret about this area of district 2, but this will have to wait until after the ride.

The Prater ride is amazing. We were able to see the roof of our building in Max Winterplatz, where the tree filled area peeks out among the second district rooftops. The ferris wheel turns slowly, so even those who are afraid of heights -- like myself -- will find this ride enjoyable.

Now, on to Fritz's best kept district 2 secret, the Kugelmugel. Back in 1988, there was a man who wanted to build himself a home. Not only did this man believe that his home was his castle, but he believed that he was entitled to live in his own kingdom as well.

For a short time, the mayor went along with his eccentric plans, until the home was completed and the Austrian government stepped in and said, mayor, what are you doing? Vienna still respects the spirit of this independence movement and keeps it more as a work of art, an example of an individual's right to live in his own castle. It even has its own postally designated address, Antifaschismusplatz -- the 2 in the street sign indicates its location in district 2.

We drove to the first district to take photos by day. The area is just as interesting in sunlight as it is under the moon. We find parking and walk on cobblestone streets through preserved architecture mingling with 21st century structures. We pass a memorial to Holocaust victims.

There is a restaurant which Fritz pronounced "SMOOT-nee" but it was spelled "SMUTNY" and I called pronounced "Smut New York." I wanted to try a schnitzel in Smut New York, and I was glad I did. I had a turkey schnitzel that was stuffed with camembert and schinken -- that's ham.

As is the norm here, we washed down our meals with phenomenal beer -- Fritz had Ottakringer, the native brew of Wien, made in the 16th district. I was sticking with Budweiser, never had it tasted so good!

We jumped in the car and head to Perchtoldsdorf, a Wien suburb where we meet up with George, an old school friend of Fritz live. Here is George, Fritz's childhood friend, George's mother, Elizabeth, and Fritz. She is a very sophisticated and sharply dressed woman, Versace, Gucci, she oozes class. She used to own a clothing shop in the 6th District but sold the shop and is now retired.

At the Heurigen, I had the Parisian Schnitzel. It's like Wiener Schnitzel, except that it is fried in egg dough. The crust then becomes omelet-like. The veal was tender and melted in your mouth, but I realize I prefer the breading of a Wiener Schnitzel sprinkled with fresh lemon. When dinner was over, there was another special treat. A salesman entered the restaurant carrying a tray of dark-chocolate covered grapes and strawberries skewered on sticks. He does not work for this heurigen, but is a local who makes his living this way. He has competition, a local woman, but they both take turns entering establishments, usually timed a half hour apart during mealtime. I picked a stick that contained six chocolate covered strawberries.

Then end of the day, what else do we do but stop by Martin's, and he welcomes us for a nightcap. Though he is too much of a gentleman to tell us -- he keeps saying mi casa es tu casa, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- I know Martin is getting sick of us, so I continue my mantra, we're only here today, gone tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Fritz & Joanna in Europe, Day 5

We're on a trip to his father's homeland, Burgenland, and Fritz says his head is "smoking." Poor husband, he's soaking in the sights and information spewing from his parents' mouth and there I am, patting him on his leg and saying, "What did they say?" The good thing is that his brain is really good at turning the languages around quickly for immediate translations. We enter the province, Grosswarasdorf in German, Veliki Boristof in Hungarian. I'm surprised at how close Burgenland is to Vienna. Up until the 1920s during the Austro-Hungarian empire, Burgenland was considered more Hungarian than Austrian.

We enter continue to Fritz's father town, Kleinwarasdorf -- the prefix "gross" means large, "klein" small. The name of the town in Hungarian is Mali Boristof.

We drive past the church where the Prikoszoviches have prayed at least since the 19th century. Fritz's father pointed out an area where in his youth all the kids youth to gather.

A short walk away is the end of town -- and the cemetery. It's a small cemetery, but rich in history -- and marble. It's like each time someone dies, they pull out all the stops to build the best memorial.

I have never seen the name "Prisoszovich" or its variations so much in one place. But Fritz's father tells me, no, these Prikoszoviches are not his family. There were many Prikoszoviches in Hungary. Fritz's father tells me the "Z" in Prikoszovich is very important, because it identifies the name as Hungarian.

We keep walking till we get to his mother's and father's graves, Michael and Agnes Prikoszovich. Except on the tombstone, the name is spelled Prikosovich. I ask him, "Where's the 'Z'?" Then he tells me about the scandal with Uncle Ignaz, his brother. Like Fritz's father, Ignaz left Hungary as a teenager and headed to Vienna for schooling and work -- except Ignaz totally left Hungary behind and didn't even want to be associated with the country. Well, long story short, when their parents died, Ignaz was put in charge of the burial and he ordered that the headstone omit the 'z' -- as if that could wash away his ethnicity. There was a big uproar in the family, but marble headstones costing what they do, the living agreed to learn to live without the 'z' in this one case.

Before we left the cemetery, we went to visit the wall of the forgotten monuments. These are the old, tombstones of the graves where the family lineage has died out and there's no one to care for the graves.

Then we walked across the street from the cemetery to the exact spot where Fritz's father grew up. While most of the structures are new, there is one structure remaining from his youth and it's used mostly as a shed.

Fritz's parents knock on the door of the person there, and it's the wife of one of Fritz's father's cousin. I'm surprised, there are still Prikoszoviches in town!! She invites us in like she was expecting us and made us some espresso -- no matter where you go in Austria, it seems, every home has an espresso maker.

Afterward we jump in the car to get lunch. We drive through the countryside. It seems like every backyard, no matter how small or large, has a vineyard. We head to the border with Hungary. The border patrol just waves us through, but I insist on getting my passport stamped. How many times does one get to go to Hungary?

Signs for 'Vienna' turn into signs for "Becs". The word "yes" that was "ja" in Vienna now becomes "egan". And the money changes from Euros to Forint. Hungary is part of the European Union, but the country is still phasing out its own currency. But I don't see anybody rushing to change it. Check this out, for 5 Euros, we got 1,160 Forintz. And yes, the cost of living in Hungary is much, much cheaper that in Austria. In fact, that's what some folks complain about when talking about being a part of the European Union. That with the open borders, people are starting to make the 2 hour commute from countries like Hungary to work in Austria then turn around at the end of the day to head back to their own countries. These commuters are willing to work at a lower wage than someone living in a high-cost area like Vienna, and some Viennese think its scandalous.

The food in Hungary is phenomenal. I had Hungarian Goulash -- the flavors are as rich as Carne Guisada!! Lunch for four adults was 9,000 Forintz -- about 38 Euros.

The day goes by quickly and before I know it, we're driving back to Austria. The Hungarian border waves us through, but I already got an entry stamp from them. I make sure to get stamped entering Austria, though, because I don't want any trouble from the airport security.

After we separate from Fritz's parents, we head back to the center of Vienna. We visit Martin, then get in the car to drive to the first district to take a night stroll. I'm getting spoiled, but I really like driving around Vienna, day or night.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Joanna & Fritz in Europe, Day 4

It's the last day Fritz will be able to visit with Camillo. It's spring break, and his mother, Kornelia, is closing up their home to go visit with her folks back in Yugoslavia. So the Fritz, Camillo and I grab a bite to eat at the corner coffee shop. Then we picked up Martin and drove around the city.

Fritz wanted me to see Kahlenberg, the highest point in Vienna that overlooks the city. From there you can see the Danube River as well.

There is a Polish church -- a church is called kirche (KEHR-kay) -- at the summit of Kahlenberg, and there is a memorial there to Pope John Paul II, who when he was in Vienna went to visit actually prayed in this church.

We went on a mini hike and it was time to take Camillo back home. He lives in the suburbs of Vienna, a place called Deutsch Wagram. Poor Camillo, the four of us ganged up on him so he could do better in school. The good news is that Camillo likes me: He even started saying "phenomenal" to me at certain times -- those who know me know that that word is one of my favorites.

It's late by the time we head back to district 2 in Vienna. We are already in Max Winter Platz 6 when we realize that we haven't eaten since the afternoon. It's Sunday night, and not much is open, so Fritz suggest we head to a wurstelstand -- 24-hour kiosks scattered around the city where people grab a quick bite to eat. We drive to district 1 and find parking and start strolling through the streets and window shopping.

We come upon a wurstelstand and all of a sudden a crowd begins to converge. By instinct, I want to run over and get on line, but Fritz tells me to hold back. "Let them go first," he said. "That way, they get the food that's been sitting on the grill and we'll get the fresh stuff." Well, what can I say, but that he really knows his way around Vienna.

I had a kaserkreiner, which looks like a grilled hot dog but is much, much better than any hot dog I ever tasted in New York. Fritz had a leberkase, which looked like thick bologna but again was much more tasty than that. We shared a beer, and the tab came out to a grand total of 8 euros!!

Fritz & Joanna in Europe, Day 3

Fritz took the car to pick up Camillo while I worked on the blog. When they returned, we started horsing around with the camera. Then we got in the car and drove to the first district, the fancy schmancy part of town -- and also the most cultured. I was busy taking pictures as father and son strolled through the streets. Sometimes, from behind, they almost look like buddies or even twins!!

We ended up at the Krah Krah, one of Fritz's old haunts. Fritz had an ex-girlfriend, Nikki, who used to work there, and he was heavily going down memory lane. Camillo got a coke, I ordered Budweiser and Fritz got us little tasty nibbly things. Budweiser in Austria is NOT the same Budweiser in the U.S. The Budweiser in Austria tastes smooth and more potent.

We drove Camillo back home and prepared for dinner with the folks again. This time, we went to a Czechoslovakian place -- Tanya's people are from there. There was a violin player who was really very talented. He got Fritz's dad into the mood. Everytime the man played a tune, Fritz's dad would say to me proudly, "This is from my country." He was talking about Hungary. Fritz's father was born into the Austro-Hungarian empire in a part of Austria called Burgenland. It is on the border of Hungary.

The food was phenomenal!! We drank schnapps, and by the end I was almost joining in singing old folk songs! After dinner, we drove to Tanya's for coffee and cake. The cake was made by Fritz's mother, and it was jammed packed with apricots.

We ended the evening waking Martin up and hanging with him for about an hour. We listened to music and decided to take photos to record the moment. I'm always talking about Martin, so it was a great opportunity to record "history." That word "history" is one of the buzzwords of this trip. Anyway, we leave Martin with a promise to pick him up earlier so we can hang out by daylight. He's cool with that, so we head back to Max Winter Platz 6 and crash.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Joanna & Fritz in Europe, Day 2

Good day Vienna! Small things mean a lot to me, so when AOL greeted me in German, I was thrilled. It was early afternoon when I finally pulled the mask off my eyes, and let me tell you, it was an Ab Fab moment, the room was BRIGHT, the sun was streaming freely through the white crochet curtains. Fritz got up to go to the Vorgartenmarkt to get some breakfast. He returned with freshly ground coffee beans and raspberry-filled fresh pastries. He made coffee, breakfast was heavenly. The sound of children playing in the park across the street makes me feel like part of the community. I like waking up in Vienna!

The most important part of the day: meeting Fritz's son, Camillo, as he got out of school. We hopped on the subway, the U Bahn, and went a couple of stops to the fourth district. The last time I saw Camillo, he was adorable and I had to squat to be eye level, and now he's taller than me. He's polite, respectful and check this out, he's learning English in school so we're actually talking! When I look at Camillo, I can't get over how much he is the handsome, spitting image of his father!

I had two "Otto" sightings -- at a cafe/restaurant (pictured) and as a destination on a trolley. Let me explain. For a while in my life, many, many years past, my last name was Otto. My ex-husband is Venezuelan, but his grandfather was a German man who immigrated to South America. Otto is the last name of my two children, Sheena and Gary. And I get a kick every time I see the name, though Otto in Austria is a lot like Smith in the U.S. -- or Hernandez in 20-plus Spanish-speaking countries.

We decided to take an ice cream break and got on the U Bahn again to get to the best ice cream shop in Vienna. Riding the subway is always interesting because you get to witness the eclectic mix of Viennese society. The subway platforms have large flat screens that serve as entertainment and also dispenses information. It cost 1.50 Euros to ride the system, the seats are upholstered and there is even reading material hanging by many seats.

We got off at the last stop and there was the Tichy building, like a monument to all ice cream. On the walk there, it appeared that everywhere you looked on the street, everyone was eating ice cream. Coming here was a double treat as we got to see Johanna, Fritz's ex-sister-in-law. I had been sad about the divorce, but to look at her it was the best thing that ever happened. She is looking GOOD!! Fantastic, actually. She's moved on, but is as affectionate with us as ever. After she got over the shock of seeing us, let me tell you, we got the royal treatment. Ice cream and coffee on the house! Waitresses coming over to catch up with Fritz and see how much Camillo has grown. I smile and nod as I stuffed my face. I'm being honest when I tell you that it was the best ice cream I've ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth!! I don't normally like strawberry ice cream, to me it is too bland, but taste Tichy's strawberry ice cream -- and every other kind, like mango or apricot -- and your tastebuds come alive with the luscious flavor of the fruit.

When we left Tichy's, we decided to walk the few blocks to see Mitch, Fritz's brother and Johanna's ex. The streets were bustling, almost like Times Square on a Saturday. Still, it was a beautiful day to stroll through Vienna. It really feels like spring. Look up, and the trees are beginning to bloom.

It was good to see Mitch, it's always good to see him. He makes me feel so comfortable, like I'm not a stranger in a strange land. In fact, this entire trip I've felt like a part of the community. It's great to vacation where everyone knows your husband's name!! Mitch lives in an industrial area that is undergoing gentrification. Mitch owns two cats, and I felt right at home. Mitch took a great shot of the three of us hanging out on his couch. Afterward, Mitch lent us his car and we drove Camillo home. We bought flowers to give to his mother, Kornelia. I couldn't wait to see her to tell her what a wonderful job she is doing with Camillo. I met her spouse, Wolfgang, and to my delight he is a former surfer dude who speaks totally good English. They have a son together, Gabriel, he is Camillo's adorable little brother. I explained to Wolfgang that while I am American, my culture is from Puerto Rico and all of a sudden he knew who I was, it was amazing. Check this out -- he's actually surfed the Rincon, which is just north of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico. He understood that the most important thing in Spanish culture is family, and he translated that to Kornelia and she, who is from Yugoslavia, explained to me that it is the most important thing in her culture, too. So while Fritz visited with Camillo in his room, the three of us drank Prosecco and got along famously! We are all on the same page and are supportive of raising Camillo.

The day turned to night quickly. We said good night to Camillo and got ready for dinner with Fritz's parents and Mitch. I also got to meet Tanya, Mitch's girlfriend. We ate at the Donauturm, a revolving restaurant on a space-needle building overlooking the Danube. I had Wiener Schnitzel, I could have schnitzel every day here and never get tired of it. We ended the evening with a nightcap at Martin's. I was sad because we only got to see Martin at the end of the day, but Martin had a full day at work -- he is a mailman -- and was okay with it. We then went back to our apartment at Max Winter Platz 6 and crashed.