Winding Down…..

Posted From Bratislava, Slovakia.

Aboard the good ship Amastella we just had a wonderful performance from a classical trio. As they played this whole thing started coming together. Central Europe is at the same time, mysterious, tragic, and magical. This is wrapped up in a history that goes back millenia. The castles and cathedrals and moats tell a story of an area that is heaped in lore and tradition but where you wonder if in a highly technological world that past is no longer relevant. The notes we heard could have been played in a palace salon in 1800 or a lonely flat where the composer toiled. Do we even think that way now?

It is probably fitting that we have bounced from the Czech Republic to Germany to Austria and now Slovenia before ending up in Hungary. Languages, customs, foods, guides and of course wines have presented themselves for our observation and consideration. Each are incredibly provincial but at the same time evoking a common emotion.Thank God, the Danube ties it together somewhat.

The second longest river is Europe is not blue.I don’t know where they got that ? Probably just worked in the lyrics. But it is clear as a bell and serves as a boundary of all sorts. The fact that Romans populated the area is pretty astounding. There were no bullet trains or C130’s to move them from Rome so they set up fortifications and way stations throughout. As in all of Europe, war making for centuries has been a common pastime. Bow windows are for real crossbows or spears and gigantic ramparts are everywhere to keep out the opposing legions from storming the bastion.

It all makes sense when you start with people moving in and around the banks. Trading posts get set up and sooner than you know it, you have a city. Depending on the tribe they came from, their language can sound like Greek to everyone but themselves.That is a stumbling block throughout Europe.A lot of borders with people speaking in many tongues. I can’t help but think about the addition of Spanish as our second language in the US. Does it make our broadscape more of a home to all or just another dividing point. Of course you can reply that our English sounds strange in various parts of the America and y’all would be right. You betcha! Fugeddaboutit!

The traffic on this river is amazing.A major use is commerce and our 440 foot lady just came through a huge lock with a tug and two barges lashed tightly right alongside us. Tight quarters but we made it. We have encountered dozens upon dozens of riverboats like ours and there is no lack of clientele.There is rhythm and reverie to this stream and throughout mes amis, the mayhem of the world seems very far away.

Austria and Germany speak the same language but it sounds different. Our guide in Deutschland had a route to accomplish and she was going to do it quickly with a staccato like quality. The Austrians are more gentile and as in life they just let it happen. They are often criticized for their lack of creativity and spontaneity. If that is true, why is it the motherland of so many composers and architects? The University of Vienna is bold and dynamic with a design that looks like a Guggenheim museum as compared to the ivy covered quads of Oxford and Cambridge.

They love their country and it shows. Linz is somewhat industrial and was bombed repeatedly in WWII but they are proud of their rebuilding efforts however pedestrian. Then you venture into the Lakes region with incredible vistas and you see their deep respect for Mother Nature. It is probably why they are neat freaks. Everything is in order, especially their wood piles. They are stacked just perfectly. You don’t see junked cars or refrigerators in rural yards but well kept houses that seem freshly painted or stained. The roads comprised of the autobahns and beyond are in superb shape which enables them to set their cruise control at 130mph which works out to be some absurd number of kilometers.

On that count, gas is around $4.50 a gallon even with low oil prices. Most of it is taxes.There is a clever system where you pay a toll based on how much you drive and it is all done automatically. Like an EZ Pass on steroids. Their Highway Fund is not bankrupt. They have made healthcare work. Taxes are high but when you see what they provide you do have to stop and think. The universities are free for residents and that is without Feeling The Bernie.I don’t necessarily want to be a socialist but there are benefits.

Don’t worry, we do have a lot in common. Depending on the country corruption is either rampant or subdued. Politicians are despised everywhere. But what they do have is history. Over the centuries they have seen dynasties come and go. They have occupied lands and had the same done to them. There have been hundreds of great ideas on how to run a country from Caesar to Merkel. They will keep on adapting and trying to find the perfect fit and therein lies the simplicity of change. It never stops.

It is part of a pervasive feeling you get here. Life goes on no matter what. When you see cities and they tell you that this street or district was blown to smithereens in WWII, or maybe it was WWI, or perhaps Attila the Hun, you get the picture. C”est la guerre. Simply put they know how to take it down a notch. Meals are an occurrence not just a need of life. You take your time and have good conversation. Christmas and Sundays are to be celebrated and not just a good excuse for some good old fashioned commercialism.

That is not to say they are anti business. They know their talents don’t come cheaply so they play to their strengths and design and build precision instruments and machinery. There are more jobs than people. They make a good living but they as a whole are averse to debt. If they don’t have the money for something they save until they do.What are these people thinking? Don’t they understand Visa and AMEX are the keys to happiness?

In truth they aren’t any better or any worse than us. When you go through charming cities and streets you have to remember what it was like six or seven hundred years ago. The streets were filled with filth, plague and pestilence. You wouldn’t be surprised if someone threw garbage out the window from the fourth floor walkup.That is why guys walk on the outside. The water was rancid which was one of the great reasons for drinking beer. Even the rich had to have tapestries woven to keep the walls of their dank castles warm. And all this time you thought they were just pieces of art.

Tomorrow we will be in Budapest and then on to home. Would I live here? Probably not. I like our little aerie in Denver. As we have in other travels these are nice places to visit. I only wish we would appreciate all that we have as Americans and add a little bit of European flair to it. Take time to talk. Have enough money to make do but not conquer the world. As a nation Austria is neutral on the world stage.Not a bad thought. They used to be the world leader but that was during the Hapsburgs. No longer. Hmmm, maybe there is a message here.

As always
Ted The Great.

Observations: Just One. I found this in my wanderings. Appropriate!

In Heaven…
• the mechanics are German
• the chefs are French
• the police are British
• the lovers are Italian
• and everything is organized by the Swiss.
In Hell…
• the mechanics are French
• the police are German
• the chefs are British
• the lovers are Swiss
• and everything is organized by the Italians… Anonymous

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