Europe Trip 2: Switzerland

We wrapped up our trip with a stay with family in Geneva. We got to all visit a nearby town together:















We also stopped by an “animal beauty contest”. We pretty clearly missed our chickens but enjoyed getting to see the ducks, pigeons and (not pictured) rabbits, too.











We definitely appreciated the stunning views from the apartment where we stayed, too, and picked up little souvenir chocolates to share at home.

Europe Trip 2: Art Interlude

This first set of images comes from our visit to the DOX Contemporary Art Centre in Prague. The whole place was sort of personified in a really sassy way and their stuff was (good) weird. We liked it. We’ll start off right with your instructions. Do keep them in mind, they’re important.

But we’ll ease in with something pretty tame – zeppelin event space, inside and out:


More snarky signs:



Commentary on world leaders, and shoe Jesus:

Modern issues:






And some wacky mannequins:






Now let’s jump over to Geneva for some public messaging and politics:







Interesting selections for public art (yes that’s a nude on the playground):







And some modernized pseudo-Greek sculpture:







Good times!

Europe Trip 2: Prague

After Vienna, we hopped on another train to Prague:

If you’ve seen the second Tom Holland Spiderman movie, you’ve seen this public square!  The astronomical clock is fascinating too. We thought the window display below was amusing, and we enjoyed the lit up architecture just off the main drag nearby.








We actually stumbled into an unplanned cultural event in this area: our hotel had brochures for what was basically their equivalent of (a smaller scale) Medieval Times. They had a several course meal, belly dancers, jugglers, sword fighters, and traditional music. It was a lot of fun.

I also went to the effort of booking a guided day trip to Terezin, a fortress built in the 1700s by Emperor Josef II for (and named for) his mother Maria Theresa. Ypsilantis and later Gavrilo Princip were held there. But the Nazis used it as a Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust. The little fort was for political prisoners. The shaving room shown here doesn’t actually have functional plumbing. It was fitted out as a ruse for the Red Cross inspectors.

This photo is still the little fort (the commandant really wanted to be in charge of a concentration camp and had “arbeit macht frei” painted above the arch in the background). The Jews were held in the large fort. Although there were some executions, there were no deliberate mass killings. Still, tens of thousands died of illness and starvation – and more were shipped to the death camps. The museum includes re-creations of living conditions.

The documentary they show in the museum juxtaposes images from the propaganda film made for the Nazis with drawings of life there created by the prisoners themselves, and the Kaddish overlaid with the counts of those sent, trainload by trainload, to Auschwitz, Mauthausen…

It helped to be able to spend some peaceful time looking out at the Vltava afterwards.


The next day we went up to Prazsky Hrad, the Prague castle complex dating to the 9th century. The layers and layers of architecture were fascinating. We particularly appreciated this ceiling. Mere rooms away, there was a display on the actual site of the defenestration of Prague. An antique weapons display and small sample living quarters – plus of course a cathedral – rounded out the variety of things we were able to see in the attraction.

We were especially pleased to see the (relatively recent) Mucha stained glass window. We also giggled at these candles:


The view from the hill wasn’t the end of our adventure in Prague. But the rest is art, which I’ll share in an interlude, which crosses over into some of the things we saw in Geneva as well. So, props to the airport hotel that held our bigger bags ’til we came back.

Europe Trip 2: Vienna

We didn’t actually like Vienna as well. Despite being closer to literate here (I have a modest amount of tourist German), we had repeated user interface issues, from the metro ticket machine to the washer/dryer at the laundromat. Still, we managed to find a lot of delicious food (including a Sri Lankan sampler, and the Naschmarkt) and generally find things to entertain us:

First off, this was the one stop in the package that included a guided tour. We joined a Spanish and English speaking guide to visit the Schonbrunn Palace and gardens and circle the city’s ring roads to gawk at the fascinating fusion of architectural styles.

One piece we were just as glad to have out of the way was the view of the Klimt Museum. He’s not really either of our cups of tea, but the dome was really neat!



We made yet another unsuccessful attempt to visit a military history museum to pick up souvenirs for an enthusiast friend. This view was actually acquired from outside the doors! More entertainingly, there was a small jet plane in the courtyard with a cloth covering on top. We meant to hop back on the tram and go exploring but we managed to get on the line headed back to our hotel.


The next day we focused on the city center. We bought tickets to watch the Lippizaner stallions practice, of course. They work in the Spanish riding school which may seem a bit odd but recall that Vienna was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, of which Spain was at times a part.

Our next stop was a building with multiple mini museum wings. The main attraction? The Globe Museum. They had both terrestrial and celestial globes of a variety of ages (and therefore accuracy) and sizes. We also visited the Esperanto Museum.

We also found a glass art shop, Gallery Sikabonyi. The gentleman who runs it is a true aficionado who can tell you all about the processes used by each of the artists to create these unique contemporary pieces. Jeff, of course, enjoyed how light interacted with these works.

Here’s an example of the mix of architecture I mentioned above.

The sleeper hit of the trip was the Austrian Museum of Folk Life (not pictured). They interspersed the historical objects, which were organized by use like cooking, sleeping and so on, with parallel items used by refugees from the Middle East. It was the most relevant/current curatorial effort I’ve ever seen, and very powerful.

Finally we visited the MAK or Museum of Applied Arts. They had a lot of interactive/nontraditional exhibits as well as some furniture galleries and (finally) some objectified portraits of men rather than women that Jeff characterized as “sexy stone carving” and “sexy metal working” which I guess I’ll just leave you to imagine.We found this non-functioning water fountain particularly whimsical due to the question on the plaque below:

I lied. It turns out I feel the need to share some feedback on our cultural excursion for this city. We booked a concert in one of the small palaces downtown. The chamber orchestra played in (very bad) historical costumes for the first act – so it was honestly a relief when they changed back to concert blacks for the second. There were a couple of dancers and an opera singer for variety. Definitely the appropriate thing to seek out in a city so entwined with the history of music!

Europe Trip 2: Budapest

Next stop, Budapest. We absolutely fell in love with this city. The food, the antique shops, the random super fancy (but quite affordable) restaurant with art gallery by one of the bath houses and most especially the bath houses. Here’s some of what we saw:

We let ourselves get talked into a trolley ride up to the top of Castle Hill – the ticket seller did a really nice job of not being pushy which we really appreciated. Buda Castle is the home of the National Gallery. It was pretty chilly, so we did poke our heads inside but perusing the gift shop we decided it wasn’t the art we wanted to see.

Before continuing on to Matthias Church, we got some souvenirs (the vendor there coached me on how to pronounce köszönöm, the Hungarian word for thank you) and stopped at a cafe for lunch, where we fell in love with Hungarian mustard.

Here’s the view out over the Danube to the Parliament building from Fisherman’s Bastion. We tried to visit the military history museum here as well (and did check out their outdoor exhibits), but like the Ethnography Museum we tried later on the other side of the river, it was closed too.

In the Jewish Quarter, we made an unexpected stop at the synagogue. The accounts of life in the Budapest ghetto during the Holocaust were harrowing, in contrast with the inspiring stories of lives saved by diplomats like the Swiss Carl Lutz and Spanish Angel Sanz Briz.

The courtyards were filled with memorials, including this Tree of Life, a repository for stones, mass graves in the garden of remembrance, and stained glass. Less seriously, there was also a Judaica museum with a Torah on display along with a note from a Rabbi permitting it to be there!

Elsewhere in the city, we found an interesting conjunction of official and protest art. The statue is ostensibly about Hungary being invaded by the Nazis and is titled a “Memorial for Victims”. But the Hungarian government was quietly replaced for a “cooperative” occupation in 1944. So the protest pieces speak to the responsibility the Hungarian people carry for failing to prevent the removal of over 500,000 Jews from the region.

To end on a happy note, here’s a view of the Danube from onboard a boat! We made sure to book something cultural in each city, and here we took a river cruise with music and traditional dancing. It was a whole lot of fun, and a nice way to end a day.

Europe Trip 2: Return to Paris

Alright, let’s see how this goes. Back in 2019 when we a) didn’t have a kid and b) could still travel because COVID wasn’t ravaging the States, we snapped up a package to visit three new Eastern European cities: Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. It started, as many such tours do, with a stop in Paris, and we delayed our flight home at the end to pick up a round trip from Prague to Geneva, Switzerland to spend some time with extended family living there. Let’s start like the trip did, in Paris:

Having learned from the “death march of art” during our first visit to Paris, we decided to try a more sedate strategy. I’d set a handful of “breadcrumbs” (map markers) within an arrondissement on Jeff’s downloaded map of the city each day and we’d wander our way from one to the next. Of course Jeff got a nice photo of Notre Dame all lit up, too (this was not too long before the big fire there).


There was a fun exhibit at the complex housing the Natural History Museum, Zoo, etc. with several very large colorful animals (I think they were inflatables) that lit up at night as well. There were more in the zoo, apparently, and the ticketing/line after dark was huge!

We took the opportunity to visit the Grande Mosque. The prayer hall was closed off to visitors, but we could hear some of the chanting. The mosaics within the courtyard were particularly lovely.


We also stopped by a “new to Jeff” museum – the Musee du Moyen Age, which is most notably the home of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. We enjoyed seeing a temporary exhibit on the gothic sculpture that adorns cathedrals as well.


We wandered into some churches to see the interior architecture and decorations as well. This one was particularly striking.

Of course we made sure to visit our favorite Eritrean restaurant again and I got to try some matcha flavored madeleines from the fusion patisserie Sadaharu Aoki.

Sadly we missed the Atelier de Lumieres as they were transitioning between exhibits.

We were also lucky enough to find a Mucha exhibit at the Jardin du Luxembourg near our hotel. We got to see many of his most famous works as well as some lesser known costume designs(!) and learned about his series of Czech nationalist paintings, one of which you can see here.