Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Minus 15 Celsius is cold, whether in Europe or in Texas

Siberian cold in Prague in early 2017
When thinking of cold temperatures, Europe appears to be a much more certain shoe-in than Lubbock, but when I left home three weeks ago it was bloody cold in Texas--almost as cold, by just a few degrees, as what Sabine and I experienced in Prague last week when the thermometer hit minus 15 Celsius, or something like 5 degrees Fahrenheit. What a difference from the DR, which by now is just a faint memory for me.
After one pretty day and a bike ride ...
... winter arrived in pre-Christmas Freising
I spent Christmas and New Year's and the first ten days of 2017 in Europe, never in one place for much longer than three or four days. The Friday after my arrival we drove to Dortmund to celebrate Christmas with Sabine's mom and brother, who live together in the family's old home outside of the city. It was a green Christmas, with much wind and drizzling rain and live candles on the tree and a very happy Oma. In between opulent meals we went for occasional walks (weather permitting), but in general it was all laziness. One evening we visited an old friend of Sabine's, a successful photographer with whom she had spent time on the south Pacific island of Tonga.
Only the candles burned, thank goodness
To break up our time in Dortmund, we went for a 36-hour field trip to Cologne and Schleiden, my old hometown. In Cologne we spent a few hours with my cousin, Paddy, and his family, and then we drove the remaining 50 kilometers to visit my old friends Tom and Regine and their extended family in Schleiden. I hadn't seen them since my summer trip in 2014 when Angela and I had stopped through, so there was much catching up to do. For Sabine it was the first time back to Schleiden since her first and only visit sometime in the late seventies. We had a great time!
Our old house in Schleiden, sporting a T-Mobile racing stripe
Raclette for New Year's Eve
For the turn of the year we were back in Bavaria. We had been invited by a befriended couple, Gerhard and Corinna, and together with them and other friends we celebrated the evening in their stylish home close to the Starnberger See. So far we hadn't seen much snow except a sprinkling right after I had arrived, but that night it was cold enough for ambient moisture in the air to freeze and look like spindrift. On New Year's Day, after sleeping in at our friends', the sun was out and we decided on a detour to the lake. With the Alps rising in the near distance we found a comfortable spot in a busy restaurant and basked in the afternoon sun. What a great way to start 2017! And on the way home, we took pictures of the icy landscape around Freising.
Starnberger See, with Alps in the background

We spent several hours in this nice cafe on the lake

Is this really the SUN????

Still Life with Latte Macchiato and Beer (appr. 2017, digital camera)

On the way back to Freising the icy fog once again started to move in

Not snow, ice from the fog

That's how ice grows
After New Year's, it finally started to snow, and the weather forecast painted a dire picture of the next few days as a low pressure system by the name of Axel was bearing down on central Europe. We had first thought about driving Sabine's Skoda to Prague but thought better of it--good decision as on our travel days conditions were especially dicey. We took advantage of the railroad's Prague Special and spent about 60 euros each for the four-and-a-half-hour trip--stress free in a compartment of our own, and almost on time. (OK, so what if the toilet was frozen on the way back and ice formed inside of the corridors?) To make things even easier, the train station is only a few minutes' walk from the Hilton Old Town Prague, where we had booked a room for three nights, right in the heart of the city. Nice.
Not another colon photo or some cranial exhibit--just the frozen toilet on the train

The joys of riding the train in winter
This was my fourth visit to Prague, and just like the first time with Judy sometime in the '90s it was bitterly cold. Add some wind to this Siberian cold, and the best course of action is to spend as much time inside as possible. That's really not difficult in Prague as there are exhibitions, museums, shops, coffee houses, and jazz clubs galore. Since we had visited the "must see" sights before we were free to simply drift and duck into whatever establishment looked right. In a tiny antiques store the elderly store owner invited us to sit down with him for a coffee and a brandy and a chat. Quite civilized! We went to various coffee houses, art deco affairs with waiters who look as if they have worked here forever. The Dali and Warhol exhibitions were quite interesting, as was the visit to the Sex Machines Museum--yes, we stooped that low and came away with more knowledge than anticipated! Jazz at night rounded off our four days in this fascinating and superbly picturesque city.
Enjoying the budding craftbrew scene as Pivovar Narodni

At Reduta Jazz Club we sat in the very same seats as these folks

The interiror (nope, the extrerior, too) of Kavarna Obecni Dum is as art deco as it gets

I clocked the cake cart at exactly 13 minutes per circuit through the entire coffee house

It wasn't quite cold enough (or not long enpugh cold) to freeze the Vltava; Pragues castle district, the Hradcany, is in the back left

Sabine enjoying the cold and ample birdlife in view of the Charles Bridge
Jazz Republic, where there's never a cover charge, where you can reserve
 seats, and where a decent beer costs $3. Now, how smart is that?

Prague's roofline is second to that of no other city that I have visited. None.

David Cerny's oevre d'art puts Manneken Pis in Brussels to shame. The penis moves up and down, side to side, activated by viewer's text messages.

Cerny is also reposible for this non-native species; no excretions here
Old coffee machine in another iconic coffee house, Kavarna Slavia

The National Theatre, in all of its late afternoon glory

Tantalizingly barbaric devices in the Sex Machines Museum. Do
not use this at home with your car battery attached.

And now I am sitting in the Munich airport waiting for my flight to London and then back to the US. In just a few hours, this entire trip will be history again. Sabine is back at work today after her vacation time, and my life will return to its normal routine (whatever that may be) as well. Happy New Year!
Hradcyn during the day
Hradcyn and Charles Bridge at night