I ♥ NY

Diesmal gibt es keinen ausführlichen Reisebericht, eigentlich wollte ich ganz darauf verzichten, aber nachdem wir heute den 10. Jahrestag der Anschläge auf das World Trade Center begehen, wird dies eine kleine Hommage in Bildern. An mein persönliches New York – „the greatest city in the world“ wie David Letterman kurz nach den Anschlägen bewegt feststellte.

Ich kann ihm nur voll und ganz zustimmen.

I wasn’t going to write another travel report this time around. But since we’re commemorating the attacks on the World Trade Center, 10 years ago today, I decided to publish an hommage to my New York. The city, which is, as David Letterman asserts in his moving speech shortly after the attacks, „the greatest city in the world„.

I couldn’t agree more.

Diese Diashow benötigt JavaScript.

Susanne, 11. September 2011

On the road in France – Villefranche Sur Mer

When the winter months become unbearable, because the clouds don’t seem to want to vanish and the sun is but a distant memory, when, as if that wasn’t enough, you live in a landlocked country and suffer from an incurable addiction to the sea, it is high time to pack your bags and get on a plane.

Which is exactly what I did just a few weeks ago, when I realized that surfing vacation or airline related websites did nothing to ease my melancholic state of mind. In fact it made matters worse. I’d been looking at pictures of southern France, a region that I’ve grown to love, especially the area in and around Nice, where I’d already spent two wonderful vacations. But there were still a few places I had yet to see, so I didn’t hesitate very long and the option of a few days off, as well as a promising weather forecast for the coast, more or less forced me to book a flight and a hotel. This time around I chose to stay in Villefranche Sur Mer, a tiny sea-side village, just a few miles to the east of Nice.

With a fantastic discount for an outstanding hotel, and a bargain for the plane tickets, I left Vienna on a wintery mid-February day, foggy and cold, and just about two hours later I exited at Nice Airport welcomed by a spring-like dream, with blue skies and mild temperatures.

With the view of the mediterranean coast, the endless beach promenade lined with palm-trees and the first breath of the very typically scented sea-side air, a mixture of moistness with a tinge of salt, my mind went into the usual zen-mode, which is turned on like a switch as soon as I’m anywhere near an ocean. I instantly relaxed, drew up something of an admittedly almost idiotic grin and headed towards information, in order to find out how to get to Villefranche.

I wasn’t even bothered by any strikes this time around and when I changed buses in the city center of Nice, the driver actually got the bus heading to Villefranche to wait up for me, by honking the horn and waving. I thought I was witnessing a miracle. A few minutes later I got off in Villefranche, rolled my suitcase down the steep coast towards the old harbor and checked into the most beautiful hotel in the area.

I don’t know what I did, but this vacation – yet again – would be more or less perfect. A sequence of lovely days, wonderful weather, pleasant people and a near fairy-tale like peacefulness in and around Villefranche Sur Mer.

As mentioned, the following days were spend in a state of bliss, mostly in Villefranche, which as the whole area on the coast, was more or less in full blown spring mode, with flowers blooming all around, mild temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius, and the benefit of the off-season. Which meant very few people to invade on activities such as taking pleasant little walks around the beautiful medieval town, sitting on my balcony and gazing at the boats rocking peacefully in the old harbor just out front or lounging at the Café Les Palmiers, which offers both views of the bay and the few locals or tourists which hang around the village at that time of the year.

Whoever is not trained as I am in wasting away the day by doing absolutely nothing, there’s always the option to jump on a bus and go to Nice. Which I did, since I still had some unfinished business with the town, so to speak.

When I last spent time in Nice I discovered a place on the hill which towers over the city – the Colline du Château – not only to be horrified of not even having seen it the first time around, but to also find out later, that this place is called Nietzsche Terrace – owing its name to the German philospher, who had spent time in the region and enjoyed the serenity as well as the view.

So I spent a few hours on the Colline du Château, which is in fact a beautiful place with lots of hidden spots where on can sit and philosophize. I didn’t come up with Zarathustra, but I could relate to Friedrich.

Even more so, after I spent the rest of the time in Nice at the Marché aux Fleurs, which seemed to have been invaded by sun seeking tourists from everywhere, especially England, an overwhelming amount of people, which drove me to finish my lunch faster than intended and hop on the bus to Villefranche, back to peace and quiet.

The rest of the time was spent as before, doing mostly nothing, which always comes so easily when you sit at the coast and watch the water. Where the hours pass unnoticed, oppressing thoughts are lifted and blown away and the only thing which remains is a tranquil state of mind, which is only briefly bothered by the knowledge that there’ll eventually be an end to this blissfulness.

And the days did pass in Villefranche, with lovely weather and temperatures that not only let me spend a few hours on the beach dozing in the sand, but allowed me to stick my feet into the sea and recharge my batteries with plenty of happiness to last until the next trip to the ocean.

Useful information:

How to get there: Nice Airport is the closest airport to Villefranche Sur Mer. If you use public transportation take bus Nr. 98 all the way to the gare routière in the city center of Nice. Change to Bus Nr. 81. The bus-stop at Villefranche is called Octroi. Bustickets from the airport are 4 Euros (all day passes for the region), one way tickets to and from Nice to Villefranche are 1 Euro.

Accommodation: If you stay in Villefranche,  the Hotel Welcome is practically a must. It’s a beautiful hotel, right at the old port, with lovely rooms and balconies facing the bay. The personnel is extremely friendly and helpful, there’s free Wi-Fi and during the off-season, discounts can get you up to 30% off.

Food: The Café Les Palmiers turned out to be the nicest Café/Restaurant in the Village. It’s located on a plaza right behind the Hotel, with a view of the old port and the Chapelle Saint Pierre, which boasts paintings by Jean Cocteau. Les Palmiers is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Good food can also be found at the water front, but be advised to check the menu, there are some outrageous tourist-trap-like prices.

Susanne, April 1st 2011

On the road in Turkey – Istanbul

When I found out that I was going to travel to Istanbul I was so excited to be replacing the easternmost point of my travels that I happily told a friend about it, adding that the furthest to the east I’d been up until now had been Prague.

She laughed and said that Prague was to the west of Vienna, where I live, which I not only found embarrassing, as it exposed my geographic ignorance, but also quite revealing, since it became obvious to me that very moment, that borders today as ever are really more or less drawn in one’s mind, emotionally, rather than geographically on a map. Prague still evoked visions of the eastern block, the iron curtain and therefore simply had to be further east. In my head.

Regardless of the fact, that I later realized that the easternmost point of my traveling wasn’t Vienna but Helsinki, I was leaving for Istanbul, which, apart from the philosophic aspect, rendered the whole discussion more or less obsolete.

I left for Istanbul on October 27th, part of a group of Bloggers and Twitterers (aka „nerds“), led by a native of the city, who had not only organized the trip, but would also guarantee that we would get something of an insider-view as well.

After a bumpy flight, which led me to the brink of performing one of those popelike groundkissing gestures after we had landed, I was quickly hauled back to more profane levels by witnessing a perfect scheme of legal extortion. When you arrive in Istanbul you have to buy a visa. Nobody of course mentions this beforehand, so you grudgingly pay the price of 20 Euros which allows you to enter the country, wondering, if ever somebody had had the guts to say: I’m not paying! (and getting back on the flight back to wherever she had come from). I’m still of the opinion that this form of visa is nothing but a modern version of highway robbery.

The perfectly organized transport to the hotel, which was located in the old part of town, erased the remaining traces of resentment and after checking in, we quickly left for a first walk around the vicinity of the hotel. Excellently situated in walking distance to Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the grand bazaar and the spice bazaar, we had our first turkish coffee (apart from the typical Cay, which is black tea, a definite must in Istanbul) and later on found ourself on our first tour through the bustling grand bazaar.

The place is indoors, as is the spice bazaar, which was a delight, because it had already begun to rain and so we spent our first afternoon wandering through the maze of lanes in the bazaar, a labyrinth of stores which offer everything one can possibly imagine, from leather to jewelry, from carpets to scarfs, from artwork to oriental kitsch.

The downside of this colorful place? Apart from the impression that the trashy by far outweighs the beautiful, if you happen to be female and without a „male guardian“, wandering the lanes can become a steeplechase, which constantly seems to be brushing on the border of outright harassment. And not answering the 20th insinuating „can I help you“ with a blunt „go fuck yourself“, can only be prevented with an extra-amount of zen-like self-discipline. Or you just leave the place quickly and head on over to the spice bazaar, where salespeople are less intrusive and which in addition offers the more interesting selection of goods. Spices, teas and more – lovely!

Day number two, unfortunately, saw horrendous amounts of rain, which would have been ok, if that day hadn’t been planned for touring most of the historic monuments in the old part of town.

We started out with Hagia Sophia, which used to be a church, then a mosque and today is a museum, where islamic and christian architecture converge and can be appreciated for their diversity as well as artistic mastery.

On we headed to the blue mosque, which is really called Sultan Ahmed mosque and by the time I had taken off my shoes, which up to this point in time were beyond wet, and stepped onto the soft carpet of the mosque, I could barely feel my toes anymore, because not only had it been raining without end, it was also freezing cold.

The stunning beauty of the mosque, rightfully nicknamed for the thousands of pale blue tiles, which turn the entering light into a milky-blue, almost dreamlike, haze, let me forget the cold and the wetness outside. Only for a short while though, because we left again, and so I forced my feet back into my shoes, which at this point would emit a squishy sound every time I took a step.

I mustered the strength for one more sight – the roman cistern – a wonderful display of functional architecture which to this day is still partially in use for the city’s water supply – and then I caved. I succumbed to the vision of a hot shower and dry socks and left the group, which headed on towards the next sight. Topkapi Palace would just have to wait.

The next day was Turkey’s national holiday „Republic Day“ and there would have been a parade, only it was postponed to Sunday because of the rain, which showed one of the many amiable qualities of the Turks. Something’s not working right now, doesn’t make sense, would be too dangerous/complicated etc… we’ll do it another time. An unknown amout of flexibility which in this case extended to the parade to be held on the most important day of the nation. Very impressive!

As for my tourist program. The morning was spent walking across Galata Bridge, which was lovely, because despite predictions that the bad weather would continue, it had stopped raining and the walking tour through the part of town across the bridge over the Golden Horn – Beyoğlu – turned out to be nicer than expected. Galata Tower was climbed with the help of an elevator and offered a fantastic view over Istanbul, lunch was spent on the sidewalk of one of the many Kebab stands, with – yes of course Kebab – and – again of course – Turkish coffee.

The afternoon had been reserved for a visit to the hamam, an experience nobody should miss. In my opinion, you haven’t lived until you’ve been to one of these washing machines for humans, where they manage to scrub away not only physical dirt, but everything which remotely resembles an emotional stain as well. You will leave the place clean and happy.

Saturday came around and the plan for the day was a) Topkapi Palace and b) Asia. As one well knows Istanbul lies at the intersection of Europe and Asia and since I had left for this trip with something of a geographic agenda, I would not miss the opportunity to set foot on another continent just like that.

But first things first. The decision to skip Topkapi on Thursday had been wise, because apart from the fact that we didn’t have a guide this time around, the sun was out, which beat any accompanying historic narration by lengths. Topkapi is a former sultan’s palace which sits atop one of the seven hills of Istanbul and not only permits great views over the city, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, but also offers an interesting display of jewelry (yes the movie…) and reliquies (the beard of the prophet!).

Finally we were headed over to Asia. With ferries leaving from the harbor every 15 minutes, we had opted for Üsküdar and only 20 minutes later my feet touched Asian ground.

That part of the city is really not any different from the rest, it would be absurd if had been, because after all Istanbul is a metropolis of over 14 million citizens, still growing and expanding, again, not following laws of geography but opportunity and space. Hence while we had landed in a more trashy part of the city, with bustling crowds and a lively market that sold anything from cow’s feet to fresh fish, others of our group had been to upper-class neighborhoods, diversifiying the Asian experience just as much as the European one.

The last evening was spent, as the evenings beforehand, with excessive amounts of food. This time accompanied by live music, which turned out to be a life saver, because only the dancing part towards the end of the night prevented me from keeling over and exploding. Turkish food is dangerously good.

On Sunday, after the final shopping at the Spice Bazaar, the bus was already waiting outside of the hotel, ready to take us to the airport, our trip was nearing its end. And what did I take with me, apart from the usual knickknack, candies, teas and spices? I took with me the experience that the Orient is vastly different from the Occident and at then again not so different at all.

Istanbul, like any big city in the world is a busy place, with lots of different people from everywhere crowding the streets. It’s as tolerant or intolerant as any other city in the world, and where one might expect narrow-mindedness or dogma, liberality and patience prevailed.

Take for example the blue mosque – yes you had to take your shoes off, but women for example didn’t have to wear a head scarf. Neither did they in Suleymanye mosque, which is located at the harbour. The only bigotry I experienced was exhibited by a German tourist complaining that asking to take one’s shoes of „is a bit much, really“.

Then again I did have problems with what Turkish men mistake as „gentlemanliness“ or „chivalry“, but finding it restricted to the Grand Bazaar and some very touristy restaurants, it could easily be avoided, which nicely corresponds with the first rule in my book of zenlike-tourism: „if you don’t like it – don’t go there!“

Over all, Istanbul is a grand city in every aspect. It’s lively, it’s beautiful, the people are lovely and heartwarmingly tolerant, so much so, that even a suicide-bombing (which thankfully claimed only the life of the bomber) on sunday morning, wasn’t disruptive enough to change this impression. Not at all.

Useful Information:

Accommodation: Hotel Erboy was ideally located in the center of the old part of town. In walking distance to all major sights, its room were clean, buffet breakfast and free wi-fi access included, there’s a roof terrace in the summer.

Hamam: Cagaloglu Hamam is an ok Place to visit, though I doubt that it really is one of the New York Times Bestseller’s „1000 places to visit before you die“ – because of that attribute, it is rather touristy and crowded, you may be better off, visiting one of the smaller local Hamams.

Restaurants: I can heartily recommend the restaurants Hamdi in the old part of town, Mekan in Beyoğlu as well as Otto (also located in Beyoğlu). Hamdi and Mekan offer traditional Turkish cuisine, while Otto is more of a loungy kind of place, which has a rather eclectic menu).

Susanne, December 15, 2010

On the road in France – Nice

Southern France is always worth a visit. No matter where you go, I’m quite certain that you will enjoy your stay. When it comes to Nice though, I would like to add that this particular town would very much deserve to be pronounced the English way. After all it is very nice there. That’s one of the reasons I decided to pay the city on the French riviera another brief visit this summer.

Wherever you come from, Nice has its own airport, so there’s no need to spend too much time thinking about how get to your hotel. At least that’s what I thought until – waiting for the bus to the city center – I remembered that I was in France. I have spent some time in France, Paris respectively, and I should have known that wherever you go in this country, a strike is never far away. So as I mused about what to do and where to go during my vacation in Nice, it suddenly struck me that the reason for my prolonged waiting could well be a strike.

It was. And I as well as some 40 other people had decided to resist the urge to take a cab and remain obstinate, as if to demonstrate our own right for public transportation, close to midnight outside of Nice Airport. Fortunately I possess extensive experience with and a general sympathy for the sometimes sanguine, sometimes grumpy French people and did exactly as they do when they’re faced with delayed public transportation due to various strikes. Which is pretty much nothing, combined with a smile on your face. But that is rather easy when you’re inhaling salty air from the Mediterranean Sea and are looking forward to 5 days of „joie de vivre“.

Finally the bus arrived and I made it to the hotel at last. A friend of mine was already waiting and in order to properly start the holiday we headed out to the historic quarter (Vieux Nice) and the part that’s usually referred to as Marché Aux Fleurs to toast to good food, weather and of course – wine. Which, if you’re willing to take my advice, should be Côtes de Provence rosé wine.

Despite the fact that we had had some plans for this vacation, all of them were abandoned on day one, when we visited the private beach of our hotel, which was the Hotel Beau Rivage right behind the famous Promenade des Anglais. It’s not as private as you may think, everybody can go, but you have to pay an entrance fee and when you do, you will find yourself in a little paradise, equipped with comfortable deckchair, a restaurant with handsome waiters, who will deliver right to where you’re slumbering, pretty blue and white umbrellas, your own life-guard, and most importantly the turquoise colored freshness of the Mediterranean sea, five steps from your deckchair.

Nothing, absolutely nothing was able to beat that, and with the happy coincidence of outstanding weather, my friend and I forgot about Cannes, St. Tropez, Villefranche sur Mer or other places to go and stayed in Nice. Five days of absolute bliss.

In case you ask yourself why I’m telling you all this, when you may have wanted to read about sights and things to do, well, if you ever want to be an accomplished traveler you should heed the few pieces of advice I have to offer. Which can actually be summed up in one sentence: When you travel, do what you FEEL like doing (and don’t rely on travel guides). This is something of a taoist travel mantra, which I’ve used in the past few years and which has always rendered my vacations more or less perfect.

The one at Nice turned out to be a mixture of laziness on the beach, food and drink. And southern France is actually one of the best places for these occupations, considering that the weather is pleasant most of the summer, the French definitely know how to cook and I don’t need to mention the wine.

So when you travel to Nice, and when you find yourself lucky enough to have a few days of sunshine ahead of you, why don’t you indulge yourself on one of the private beaches. Go get front-row deckchairs, bring a good book and let time get washed away by the pleasant sound of the Mediterranean surf. If you get thirsty, the waiters will be happy to bring you a glass of wine, some olives and as far as I’m concerned – not much more is necessary to make a traveler happy.

When it comes to eating, you definitely want to check out „L’Ane Rouge“ at the harbour. I can savely say that it’s been a long while since I’ve eaten better. The personnel is friendly and very attentive, if you stay late, make sure they call a taxi for you – remember a strike is never very far away in France and cabs can get rare on these occasions as well.

As for the touristy area around the Marché aux Fleurs – my friend an I ate there twice and even though one might suspect tourist traps in these places, we were never disappointed. We tried La Cambuse, and found excellent Pizza, Chez Freddy served an outstanding lobster paella, prices were reasonable, the service ok. Le Pain Quotidien turned out to be a wonderful place for breakfast. They have a wide variety of breads, which are baked fresh every day, delicious cream-coffee (the french way in a big mug) and different selections of breakfast add-ons, ranging from omelets to muesli or smoked salmon.

When you’re not relaxing at the beach, strolling around the old quarters is a pleasant waste of time, if you’ve absolutely got to spend money, the area around Place Massena (Rue Paradis, Avenue de Suède…) will provide you with plenty of opportunities to get rid of whatever you have in your wallet. Nightlife centers around the old quarters, at least that is where all the tourists can be found. There are clubs that may be popular, some place called Le Klub for example, where my friend and I found ourselves on the one and only excursion late at night together with one other lost soul. Who knows, they may get busy in the early morning hours, we didn’t care to find out. By this time we had long decided that our vacation in Nice was going to be spent lazing on the beach, reading a good book or gazing out at sea.

Where I live, we use a saying to describe a person who knows how to live very well. We would say he or she lives like a god in France. If you get a chance to do as I did in Nice, you’ll agree with me that the selection of France as the place where even a God may feel spoiled, couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Useful Information

Getting to Nice and accommodation: Nice has its own airport. Most cities in Europe offer direct flights to Nice, when you come from further away, you will probably have to fly via Paris. Hotels are plenty in Nice, but I can recommend the Hotel Beau Rivage. The have excellent rates if you book early (around 180 Euros per room). Despite the fact that the interior designer got a little carried away with the design rather than stressing function (e.g. in the bathrooms). the hotel is in a great location, right near the Marché aux Fleurs and the beach, personnel is extremely helpful, hotel guests enjoy slightly reduced rates at Beau Rivage Beach.

Food:  Le Pain Quotidien, 1 Rue Saint-François de Paule. Excellent selection of breads, terrace seating, a far better choice than the overpriced hotel breakfasts. L’Ane Rouge , 7 Quai des Deux Emmanuel, situated at Nice harbor, outstanding sea-food and fish, I recommend the fixed-price menu, but don’t fall for the outrageously overpriced aperitiv! La Cambuse, 5 Cours Saleya, pizza, salads and regional specialties. Chez Freddy: 20 Cours Saleya, sea-food and fish, excellent paellas.

Susanne, August 22nd, 2010

On the road in Belgium – Brussels

I have always told anybody, whether they asked me or not, that Brussels is a city which doesn’t merit being visited for its own sake. My last trip to Belgium’s capital didn’t change my mind regarding that assertion, but I’ve discovered, that the city does have its rightful attractions. I’m talking about food and drink, or to be precise, beer.

Which leads me to the conclusion, that to best enjoy Brussels, one should combine a valid purpose for making the journey – business for example – or make it a  station on one’s trip between cities which are in fact worth a visit just for their own sake.

It was my second trip to Brussels, which as explained above, occurred because I had something else to do in the city. This time it was a „blogger’s excursion“ to learn more about the institutions of the European Union. I was in a group of about 20 people and we all had a rather tight schedule, luckily though there was still plenty of time to do some sight-seeing, eating and drinking.

When it comes to sights in Brussels, a day suffices to see most of the things that guide-books usually sell you as a „must see“. Since I have cultivated my own traveling philosophy, which can be described as a mixture of 19th century „to travel for traveling’s sake“ and taoistic tranquility („the path is the goal“), I usually care little for what guide-books tell me I must see, so even on the second time around I haven’t managed to go and look at the famed Atomium. Maybe next time.

I did walk around the historic parts of Brussels, which are well worth the time. The city has a beautifully restored center, which gravitates around the Grand Place, the heart of historic Brussels and in itself a piece of architectural art. Rebuilt after its destruction in 1695 it is, in my opinion, one of the most harmoniously styled places in Europe, with a perfect assembly of baroque and neo-gothic buildings.

When wandering around the lanes which surround the Grand Place, you will sooner or later stumble over Brussel’s symbol, the very tiny statue of a peeing boy. Or I should say, you’ll stumble over a crowd of tourists looking at the very tiny statue of a peeing boy. He’s called Maneken Pis and whether you like watching someone relieve himself endlessly is up to you, I always found it quite amusing to watch those who gather around to do just that.

When you’re done with sight-seeing I suggest you turn your mind to what’s really worth the time in Brussels. As mentioned above, that would be food and beer. Foodwise there’s lots to be enjoyed in the city, they unarguably have the best chocolate in the world – my favorite turned out to be Neuhaus – some very fine cheeses and if you care for sea-food, there’s outstanding mussels. Those are usually served with fries, the dish is called „Moules Frites“.

The best place to eat Moules Frites is a restaurant called „Chez Léon“. They’re specialized in all kinds of dishes with mussels in them and through lunch time you can get a nice combo, which includes the usual pot of steamed mussels in a very tasty broth, a small dish with fries and a beer.

In case one gets tired of mussels and fries, there’s a worthy alternative. Just fries. After all, the Belgians invented them, and neither the French, who have branded them in the American-English version, nor the Americans, who tried to „liberate“ them a few years back (remember freedom fries…), can ever take that away from them. So when you happen to be in the capital of potatoe-fries, I advise you to eat them at „Friterie chez Antoine“, which is a sort of hut right in the center of Place Jourdan.

To best enjoy the best fries of Brussels, it’s sensible to avoid the usually very crowded lunch or after-work times, when you will find yourself in a long, long line with hungry EU folk. One last piece of fry-related information: have them with mayonnaise, because that’s what you do in Brussels and you won’t regret it.

After having taken care of solid foods, it’s best to turn one’s mind to the liquid intake of calories. Belgium is famous for its great variety of beers. If ever there was a beer one never thought could possibly be brewed, it will most likely be found here. There’s white beer, dark beer, Lager, Ale and fruit beer. The latter can be found in a variety of tastes such as Banana, Mango, Cherry or Rasperry. Personally I found the first two apalling, Cherry was quite alright – I recommend Kriek in that category – Raspberry would be my favorite of the fruit beers.

Of all the other types I’ve tasted my top choice was a beer called „La Chouffe“, which is smooth, not too bitter and very, very pleasant. And what’s really important in this business of Belgian beer tasting, it’s easy to pronounce („shoof“) which facilitates ordering the right beer, even when you’ve had one too many.

What remains after my second journey to Brussels? Well, I still won’t visit the city for its own sake, but this time around I’m far from saying I wouldn’t go back. Quite the opposite actually, I would argue that Brussels grows on you, and who knows, next time that additional reason necessary to visit might not be business, but simply good food and drink.

Useful information:

Getting to Brussels: With Brussels being not only the capital of Belgium but also of the European Union, there are plenty of flights going to the city from wherever one may choose to travel. The train from the airport into the city center costs around 5 Euros, a three day pass for public transportation is currently 9,50 Euros.

Accommodation: I stayed in a hotel near the train-station, which is a decent hotel, but I wouldn’t advise to stay in that particular area. It’s not the best one in the city, staying somewhere near the historic center is probably the better choice.

Food: Chez Léon: 18, Rue de Boucher, Friterie chez Antoine: 1, Place Jourdan. Beer pubs are easily found all over the center of Brussels, I don’t have any particular recommendations, just follow your taste. The same goes for Chocolate.

Susanne, July 11, 2010

Frohe Weihnachten – Merry Christmas!

In wenigen Tagen ist Weihnachten und ich möchte mich hiermit bei den Sandworm-Lesern und Leserinnen bedanken und allen schöne Feiertage wünschen.

In a few days it’s Christmas and I would hereby like to thank the readers of The Sandworm and to wish you all peaceful holidays.

Susanne, 20. Dezember 2009

On Art – Jeff Sher

Last week I got an email from Bob Dylan. Not from him personally of course, but rather from his record company, who was kind enough to inform me, that Dylan’s latest video „Little Drummer Boy“ was being released and could be viewed on Amazon.com. I didn’t lose much time and headed over to Amazon, where I found some information as to the fact that the entire proceeds of Dylan’s new album „Christmas in the Heart“ would go to charitable causes, mainly to people who don’t have enough money to feed themselves or their families. I already own the album, but hadn’t spent any of my own money on it and so I felt bad for a while, because after all Dylan’s cause is a noble one.

Feeling somewhat guilty I decided I’d still watch the video, where only seconds later I found myself in the middle of an astonishing work of art. The video had been done by an artist called Jeff Sher, and it confirmed my long held belief, that Dylan knows what he’s doing. Not only that, but he also knows what other people are doing (right).

After all he’s made some great videos – „Subterranean Homesick Blues“ comes to mind – on the Album „Together Through Life“ he used photographies of Bruce Davidson in the clip for „Beyond Here Lies Nothing“. There wouldn’t have been any reason to doubt that Jeff Sher was the right choice.

I was really moved by the way he had made the clip, the way the pictures spoke to me, about what Christmas means to me personally. Which is not so much that it’s a religious holiday, but rather one where you get together with your family, reunite and have a good time.

Actually, I was so impressed that I started looking around on the web to find more information about Sher and a moment later, I decided that I would just go ahead and write him an email, to let him know how much I liked his video. I did that because I was thinking about my own feelings of satisfaction, when people who don’t even know me, comment on my work. I admit, I love that. And I thought maybe Mr. Sher would too. So I wrote him that email.

To my surprise he wrote back, only a few hours later and not only did he write back, he thanked me for complimenting him and was nice enough to share some insights into his work for the video as well as some very interesting details about his personal background.

His grandfather, he says, was actually from Vienna (Austria), which is where I’m sitting at the moment, but he had left the city right after World War I to emigrate to the US. He had worked as a barber here, but was apparently an extremely talented man, speaking seven languages. Unfortunately he died young and much of his life remains a mystery to Mr. Sher, who must have, however, inherited some of his grandfather’s talents.

Jeff Sher works in New York City now, he paints and he’s an experimental filmmaker. Successfully so! You can see some of his artwork on the New York Times Opinionater Blog, and not to forget, he’s responsible for the latest Bob Dylan video.

Mr. Sher was kind enough to share some photos with me (and with permission, the rest of the world as of now…) and told me a little bit about how it all happened. He’s admittedly a great Dylan fan, as am I, and he was asked to do the video for „Little Drummer Boy“ by the people working for Dylan. They told him that „he wants you to do what you do“, which actually makes me very jealous, because I continually find myself imagining how it would be if Dylan, or rather the people who work for him, told me something like that one day. Anyhow, Mr. Sher was left completely free in his choice of theme for the video. They only gave him five weeks time, which he spent painting picture after picture, which needed to be filmed, in order to create the video. Mr. Sher ended up painting around 2000 pictures, a workload, which is beautifully illustrated by the picture he sent along displaying all the paintings neatly stacked in his home.

Which makes one appreciate a work of art even more. Coincident or not, the fact that I live in Vienna and Mr. Sher having a grandfather who came from here, more so, the fact that he actually came here himself in 1969 and still remembers the morbid atmosphere of the town (nothing has changed…), the wine, the old master paintings at the Kunsthistorische Museum, and apparently to this day fancies the Austrian experimental film-maker Peter Kubelka, all that seems like it was made for being written here on my blog. Dylan meets Sher meets The Sandworm. A Christmas Carol.

More information about Jeff Sher:

The New York Times‘ Opinionator Blog

Jeff Sher’s Website

Jeff Sher on Youtube

Jeff Sher on Twitter

Susanne, 13 December 2009

In Concert – Kris Kristofferson

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Country and folk musik always has a rebellious touch. You might not hear it right away, when you lean back and enjoy just the musical part, but it does, when you start listening to the words, when you know what Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash stood for in their heydays, and when you’re familiar with their always subersive personalities and lyrics. Then you will understand that it felt as if Kris Kristofferson’s concert at Vienna Stadhalle on November 5th had been planned to coincide with the gathering of a crowd of student protesters outside of the venue. For me anyway it was ideal. I’m not a student anymore, but I sympathize with their plight and so I marched with them all the way to Vienna Stadthalle, to then move on over a few steps and enter a whole different universe, or so it seemed, when I saw the people, who were going to see country rebel and legend Kristofferson with me that evening.

Kris Kristofferson, Vienna 09

I had expected an entirely different crowd, more in the direction of Grizzly Adams on the men’s side and an aged but still subversive Janis Joplin type on the women’s side, yet the people who waited to enter the concert hall seemed to belong to an entirely different breed. They appeared to be more like the people you would encounter at a rather provincial Austrian train station. A diverse mix of men and women; on average a little older.

So here I was in the midst of this curious crowd of Austrian Kristofferson lovers and wherever I turned I would see yet another peculiar looking person. There would be older men, with receding hairlines, heavier set women with shiny satin blouses, gentlemen type men with suits and tie, middle aged women in close fitting dresses, that seemed a bit too tight already, older couples, who looked like they had just left the weekly seniors’ club meeting, and finally, three rare examples of the Austrian country western aficionado, who finally got a chance to show off their bootlace ties and exclusively embroidered western shirts.

Even more so was it comforting to know that a crowd so incredibly diverse could share a common interest: the music of Kris Kristofferson, who hit the stage almost on time shortly after 8 pm, equipped only with a guitar and a harmonica. And I’m quite sure that nobody in the audience was disappointed that evening, because it didn’t take much to notice that these vastly different people were, each and everyone of them, die-hard Kristofferson followers. You’d see them when you turned and looked around, you didn’t even have to search long and you’d be able to spot them all over the place, the true believers, the ones who would sit in their seats and whose lips would silently form every single word Kristofferson was singing right in that moment when you looked at them and together with this prayer-like form of adoration you’d see this expression on their faces, a mixture of melancholy and understanding. Always seeming to say something like „I know what you’re saying, I’ve been there too“.

Kris Kristofferson, Vienna 09

Kristofferson started the show with „Closer to the Bone“ which shares the same title as his latest album, and with just a small break during the concert he went through an impressive catalogue of songs such as „Me and Bobby McGee“, „Help Me Make It Through the Night“, „Love Don’t Live Here Anymore“, „Final Attraction“, „Sandinista“, „Silver Tongued Devil and I“ or „Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down“.

I am quite sure – no actually I am sure – that Kris Kristofferson was just as pleased as his audience that night, because there was this very special moment at the end of the concert, a moment that, if it wasn’t real, at least would be something that distinguishes a great artist from an average artist. He had just played his last song, or so it appeared, the audience was enthusiastic and he seemed to really be enjoying the love which was thrown at him, when he stopped and considered for just a second and then turned to us and said: „Wait, I’ve got another one for you“. That’s when he bid us farewell with the lovely, endearing „Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends“, which starts like this:

This could be our last good night together; we may never pass this way again; just let me enjoy it ’til it’s over, or forever; please don’t tell me how the story ends.

Kris Kristofferson, Vienna 09

Or I should say almost bid us farewell, because after Kristofferson had finished playing he spent yet another twenty minutes signing what seemed an endless amount of pictures, CDs and ticket-stubs his admirers had brought along for just that opportunity. As for me, I shook Kris Kristofferson’s hand that night and went home happy.

Susanne, November 8 2009

In Concert – Richmond Fontaine

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Last time I wrote about a concert here – Magnolia Electric Co.’s gig on October 12th – I found myself telling you, that one of the main reasons why I go to see a band play live, is the fact that it allows me to escape reality for a night; basically the same reason, why people go to the movies. I’ve come to think about this more over the past days and I realized that I had never consciously thought about it until that last review, which I wrote. But it is actually a very important basis on which I decide whether I will go and see a band play or not. And when I complain about too few good bands coming to perform in Vienna, it’s partially routed in my very picky musical taste, as well as in the fact, that I’d rather see just one great concert the entire year, than ten mediocre ones.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

Fortunately this year will not turn out to be „the year of the one concert“, because thankfully quite a few great bands have decided to stop in Vienna this year, among them Richmond Fontaine, who played last Wednesday, October 21st, at a venue called „Gasthaus Vorstadt“. Which is what made this concert even more interesting to me, because I’ve never been to that place before and so I found myself not just looking forward to hearing Richmond Fontaine play, but also almost childishly curious about this never before seen venue. Additionally, I had just finished Willy Vlautins last book „Northline“ that afternoon, which might be a rather meaningless piece of information, unless you knew that Willy Vlautin also happens to be Richmond Fontaine’s frontman, responsible for most of their songwriting.

Thanks to my co-blogger Martin, I had just recently found out about Richmond Fontaine and had thought that I might as well read one of Vlautin’s books, since I don’t remember another opportunity, where I’d had the pleasure of listening to someone’s music as well as having read something he or she had published. Of course that may be founded in the fact, that most of the books I currently read are authored by people who are already dead, so Vlautin’s books were a welcomed diversion in any case. I’m saying books, because I enjoyed the first novel „Motel Life“ so much that I bought the second one as well, and after having secured copies of the two recent albums by Richmond Fontaine („Thirteen Cities“ and „We used to think the Freeway sounded like a River“), I found myself headed for „Gasthaus Vorstadt“ feeling sufficiently informed and apart from that in an excellent mood.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

The „Gasthaus Vorstadt“ is located in Vienna’s 16th district, one of the less charming areas in the city, in my opinion, but as I walked from the subway towards the venue, a store like „Gringo Western Boots“ looked like a secret signpost among the Turkish Cafés and Chinese Restaurants on Herbststraße. But before I could spend too much time trying to figure out, who might be the customers of „Gringo Western Boots“, I had already reached the place I was looking for, which turned out to be unexpectedly nice, with a comfortable, almost rustic atmosphere.

From the room, where the stage was located, you could already hear Richmond Fontaine doing their soundcheck. Every now and then a band member would walk through the restaurant, it seemed as if everybody was naturally in a good mood that night. And so it was all very relaxed, no need to hurry in order to find a good spot, my friends and I could still have a beer, something to eat and an interesting conversation over politics – which is exactly what you would expect to be doing in a Gasthaus anyway. Finally the opening act – a band called Electronic Dictionary – was getting ready to play, and we moved over to the room where the stage was set, which was separated by a swing door, which in turn gave that room a kind of a saloon-like feel.

The opening act wasn’t anything that fit my musical taste, but that turned out to be a good thing, because I decided to go to the bathroom before Richmond Fontaine would play and I was lucky enough to meet Willy Vlautin on my way back. Ok, I didn’t really meet him, I kind of disturbed him, while he ate his dinner, but only because I really needed to know whether he would be signing his books after the show. Thankfully he did, as a result of which I can now pride myself with both his novels on my bookshelf signed by the author.

After another young man, equipped with guitar and harmonica, played a few songs – unfortunately I couldn’t hear his name – it was finally time for the main act to hit the stage and what followed was not only a great concert, but also another mental journey to places far away. If I were to try and describe the music of Richmond Fontaine, I would ask you to picture yourself in a pleasant room, outside it’s snowing and inside it’s all warm and comfortable. There’s a fire going in the open fireplace and you’re sitting in that room together with an old friend you haven’t seen in ages and who’d come to visit you out of the blue. You’re drinking a glass of Whiskey and this friend of yours is telling you what happened to him over those many years, where you haven’t seen each other. And that it’s been all but easy. Sure, there were good times, and he’ll tell you some anecdotes which will make the both of you smile, but there’ll also be heart-wrenching stories, which will make your eyes misty and will make you put your arm around that friend and tell him, that everything will be alright.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

And so you didn’t really notice when Willy Vlautin read a short part of his new novel to the audience, because his band-mate would every once in a while pluck a chord on his guitar and produce this particular sound, which would slowly stream through the room and turn spoken words into music and vice versa. And all of a sudden the whole audience would be transported into this room with that old friend, listening to his tales of good and bad times. After a few minutes the band joined in, the concert had officially started and you’d follow this friend’s narrative, which consisted of songs off of the last two albums mostly, some instrumental parts, quieter passages as well as really good rocking ones. Because after all, life might not always be fair, but there are still enough reasons to party as well.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

Eventually, after the concert had ended, and after one last drink with my friends, I would be walking home, after midnight, smiling to myself, because I’d just returned from one of those journeys, which don’t cost a whole lot of money, but which take you far away, without actually traveling a great distance. And I’d even returned with some souvenirs: A pretty Richmond Fontaine T-Shirt, two books that had been signed and the knowledge that even though there will most likely be only one more concert for me this year, which will be Kris Kristofferson on November 5th, I’m already more than satisfied with the concert-year of 2009.

For everybody who doesn’t know Richmond Fontaine, I can highly recommend the above mentioned albums, as well as Willy Vlautins novels. There’s a new one on the way, called „Lean on Pete“, which will be published in February of 2010.

Useful links:

Richmond Fontaine on MySpace

Willy Vlautin

Susanne, October 25 2009

In Concert – Magnolia Electric Co.

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Ever since The Sandworm went bilingual earlier this year and started publishing travel reports in English, it turned out that these articles were quite popular. Not only because I usually write about places that don’t get written about that often, but also because I like to write about things that don’t fall into the usual touristy categories (You can find all the articles under the link „English“, to your right). So in order to move things along here at The Sandworm, I have decided to enlighten you even further and to start publishing English reviews of the concerts I visit.

But before I get to the point, which this time centers around the gig Magnolia Electric Co. played last week in Vienna, I shall warn you in advance what you’re not going to read about in any of the concert reviews I am going to publish. I won’t be able to cite a complete set list, because that’s not why I go and listen to concerts in the first place. I don’t care much whether this song or that one got played and whether it was an older version of the original song, or if the band was actually covering somebody else’s song. Don’t get me wrong, I usually do know a majority of the songs of the bands I will go and see, but what I most care about is whether the music that night was great. Whether the audience had a good time and if able to determine, whether the band enjoyed their gig as well. I won’t know if the bass player was off key, but I’ll tell you if the band was able to transmit something beyond just a tune or a song, whether they were able to convey a certain mood, a specific feeling, whether they were capable of letting you forget for that one evening where you lived and what kind of problems bothered you and whether you went home that night thinking „Wow, what a terrific concert!“. That’s what you’re going to read about here at The Sandworm.

Magnolia Electric Co. at Wuk, Vienna, Austria, October 12, 2009. Photo credit: Martin Voglhuber

This time it’s all about Magnolia Electric Co., which accomplished every single one of the above outlined criteria that make up a good, a great, concert. The band, a collective of 4 guys and one Jason Molina, who’s the center the band gravitates around and who had had other quite successful musical projects in the past, had been booked for a gig to be played on October 12 2009, at a Viennese venue called WUK. The WUK is one of the mid-sized places in Vienna, holding up to 600 people in its large hall, and actually one of the better concert locations, of which, in my opinion, there aren’t many in Vienna.

It was a Monday night and winter had let everybody in Vienna know that even though October may officially still count as fall, it was the same as with the rest of the things that usually happen in this country, which is that nobody really gives a damn about anything „official“. And so it was freezing cold outside when I was on my way to the venue, which is located in the 9th Viennese district and where I found myself with a handful of other music lovers, who all looked as miserable as I must have, when I entered the place. Fortunately, that was soon going to change.

The opening act was delivered by a guy called Chris Brokaw, who did a great job in setting the right tone for an evening, which would quickly make everybody forget the dreadful weather outside. About 45 minutes of singer-songwriter type music, rather low key, passed and after a short break, a refill of my beer at the bar, a quick conversation with two friends there, I was ready for Magnolia Electric Co. And so was the rest of the audience, which by this time was thankfully beginning to fill the place up (there’s hardly anything more disappointing than a half filled concert hall…).

I had seen the band two years ago at a place called Szene Wien, where they played quite a good concert, but in my point of view, their songs had been arranged in a way, that was just a bit too much on the slow/melancholy side. So I was quite anxious how the gig would turn out, because Magnolia Electric Co.’s last album „Josephine“, despite being a beautiful album, is rather laid-back and contemplative, and with the weather outside I was in desperate need for something to lift my spirits.

Finally the band entered the stage, Molina seemed to be in a good mood, they took up their instruments and started the first tunes of the song that gave the last album its name. „Josephine“, which is in fact a heavy-hearted song and so my heart starting sinking as well, dreading the prospect of lugging myself home in the freezing cold after everbody got a good dose of depression. But thank goodness, I was wrong and after just a few notes of „Josephine,“ almost as if the band had tried to play a joke on us, they stopped short, hit the drums, struck the chords of their guitars and rocked.

Which is what they did for most of the evening and the crowd was thankful – everybody there seemed to have come out to get a fix of that very effective anti-depressant called Alt-Country. Not because it doesn’t have its melancholy moments, which the concert had too, for example with the beautiful „Shenandoah“, but because it has got this quality that makes you think of the southern regions of the US, where it’s usually warm, or at least you picture it as a warm place, and where people address you with „honey“ without sounding condescending, where everything runs just a little bit slower, more relaxed, with a beer in your hand and a rocking chair. Cliché? Maybe so, but what else do you go to a concert for? Not to get exactly the life you already get every normal day of the week. At least I don’t.

And I didn’t that night either. I got what I had hoped for, more so, because Molina and his band-mates not only managed to get me rocking, swaying along to the songs, which get that special quality from Molina’s sometimes very Neil Young-like tenor, but he actually took me on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Simply by wearing a T-Shirt. A shirt which caught my attention the moment he had taken off his jacket and had revealed the following print: Frontside „Gus’s world famous fried chicken“. Backside „You haven’t eaten chicken until you’ve eaten Gus’s fried chicken. Downtown Memphis“. I had been to Memphis and because of the fact that it was there that I had eaten what I now, even years later, would still rate as the best barbequed spare-ribs of my life, I took that Gus’s claim of serving the world’s best fried chicken very seriously.

And so there I was, physically in Vienna, at the WUK, with horrible weather raging outside, emotionally thousands of miles away. In Memphis, listening to a terrific set of Magnolia Electric Co., feeling warm and happy and musing over the fact whether I would ever make it back to Tennessee to give Gus’s famous fried chicken a try. And I am quite sure that the rest of the audience was in an equally satisfactory state of mind, considering that when we left the building, I couldn’t make out a single miserable face in the crowd. And for that matter, it seemed as if the band had had a great night too, for it was on our way out when we passed three of the band members, who were at this point peacefully smoking their cigarettes, who smiled at us and personally bid us farewell with a most cheerful „good night!“. It goes without saying that we thanked them and invited them to come back to Vienna. Soon, please!

Links to the bands:

Chris Brokaw

Magnolia Electric Co.

Susanne, October 18 2009