Nude in the Sauna

Hello, friends! I thought that the title of today’s blog may catch your interest and bring you here to find out what I have been up to!image4

Last week I ventured by train to the foothills of the Alps to the town of Semmering in Lower Austria. As you may recall, I don’t have a car anymore and I have been walking everyday since I arrived in Mijas Pueblo, Spain in October.

image9The walking has built up my leg muscles and that really paid off as getting to my hotel at 3000 feet required a hike on highway and following marked trails through the woods. With backpack and water, I set out for the Hotel Panhans from the Semmering train station in what seemed to be at a minimum a 30 degree angle (which I am sure it isn’t). Had I not been doing so much walking since my arrival in Europe, it is questionable if I could have completed the trek. But I did! On arrival it was wonderful to relax with a coffee and some strudel.

I found Hotel Panhans on a web travel site and really didn’t know anything about it. On arrival I could tell that this was going to be special, image6Everything was spotless and well maintained. The staff provided service the way one would imagine it to be at a first class hotel from the 1800’s… which is exactly Hotel Panhans! My room was front-facing and the view of the mountains was breathtaking from my over-sized balcony with table and chairs on a tiled floor. The hotel has wonderful accommodations for their guests. One feature is the spa with sauna, pools, etc…. Actually there are three saunas and three pools each set at different temperatures.

When I went into the sauna I wore my swimming trunks without giving it a thought. I spread my towel on the hot wood planks and immediately the sweat oozed from my forehead and then the rest of me as my body began to turn pink. So this is what it feels like for a salmon to bake on a plank! Soon others arrived BUT none of the six people in their 30’s had anything on! I mean not a stitch! I was a bit uneasy and the heat in the room wasn’t just caused by the sauna’s thermostat settings! I found it difficult to find a place to fix my eyes and not be offending anyone! Soon I left and came to learn that in many places in Europe that my experience was not unique and that wearing something wasn’t considered to be appropriate. Who knew!

image5So that’s my story today from the mountains in Semmering where food delicacies abound and are complimented with new experiences in the sauna!  Semmering is a beautiful, fairy tale place and I am enclosing above a panoramic photo of the view of the mountains from my balcony.

Gladiators

gladiator_movie_russel_crowe_3_1024x1024_wallpapername.comIn the movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe plays the role of Maximus, son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Maximus’ life is relegated to fighting for his life as a gladiator after Commodus takes power and strips Maximus of his general officer rank. By several historical accounts, however, Maximus, as portrayed in the movie, is largely fictitious and a composite of several individuals. But Emperor Marcus Aurelius is real and died in 180 AD in a Roman camp in modern-day Vienna, Austria which is about an hour and a half from my apartment in Krems. Roman influence is still sometimes felt throughout the region. Last weekend I went to Tulln (a past Roman settlement) and was reminded of the Roman influence as modern-day gladiators with Maximus’ desire, determination, and dedication competed. More about that later.

photo (15)

Tulln is located on the right bank of the Danube River between Krems and Vienna and I have journeyed by train there three times in the past couple months. Tulln was settled well before the Romans arrived over 2000 years ago. The Roman Empire had an outpost in present-day Tulln and the Danube at one time was a boundary for the Empire. Near the Danube, in the area where the Roman fort was located, is a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and an excellent museum with artifacts and items attributed to Tulln’s Roman past. There are few visible, physical remnants of the town’s Roman-period existence except those excavated and now preserved in the museum.

I certainly enjoy visiting such historic places like Tulln and museums dedicated to their history. This museum is especially good with numerous artifacts and explanations of them. But on my post-retirement adventure in Europe I also crave several things that are simply American like pancakes with real maple syrup, eating hamburgers with real beef (think about that for a minute and you will understand), and so on…. One such craving is my passion for American football. That is what lured me last weekend to Tulln to see modern-day gladiators with the Tulln Air Force Hawks competing against the Blue Hawks from Asperhofen in a real American football game! It is wonderful that here in the middle of Europe I can experience watching the game I enjoy and witness things that have been incorporated into the game day.

American football in this area is what Americans would call a “club sport.” The players come from all over Lower Austria and are playing for the love of American football. Where football (soccer) is king, these gridsters may eye being discovered for an opportunity to play on an American college football team or may envision a professional career as the NFL in Europe gains traction. Regardless, they are modern-day gladiators.

The announcer spoke in German and added color in English like “Oh my God, quarterback sack!” Each team’s starting players ran onto the gridiron through “smoke” out of a large inflatable helmet as their names were announced. The officials marched onto the field (although out of step) photo (17)and there was real respect  for them. There were cheerleaders too! They came from the Vienna Wildcats and cheered for the Tulln Air Force team. There was a lot of fan noise throughout the game with horns, drums, clappers and other devices to support their hometown team! Noise was unending and only stopped at halftime and during injury time-outs. About 300 faithful fans attended. There was no halftime show and I observed that halftime was like a social outing among friends.

On the initial kick-off a player was injured. Every player on the manicured grass field and sidelines and every cheerleader went on a knee for this and each time a player was injured. I thought it to be respectful and almost like they were jointly sending a prayer that the injury not be serious. The food at the concession stand was interesting. Remember, this is Austria. The choices on the chalk menu were grilled frankfurters, grilled hamburgers (see note above), and, of course, grilled pork. Beer, wine and Coke were also sold along with cigarettes which were permitted to be smoked anywhere other than in the bleacher area.

photo (19)Finally, Tulln’s gridsters just didn’t have an adequate passing quarterback and lacked a punter so they ran on every fourth down (including a 4th and 20 from their own 20!). Asperhofen’s Blue Hawks had a dominating defense and at the end, the hometown gladiators lost the contest. However, I give them and the game a “thumbs up” as each of the modern-day gladiators, the fans, and I enjoyed the day of American football.

The “Little Rose Garden” of the Wachau Valley

My travel adventures have taken me throughout the United States and every continent. I have fond memories of the terracotta soldiers in China, huge tortoises in the Galápagos, Uluru in Australia, penguins in Antarctica, going inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt, walking around Stonehenge in England, and many more! But I must say that the Wachau Valley in Austria with the Danube River flowing through it is certainly the most beautiful location I have ever visited.

Yesterday, I journeyed to the heart of the Wachau Valley, reminiscent of complicated journeys of the past by tour boat, car ferry, hiking, and bus. The journey itself took plenty of time, particularly when I found myself on the wrong side of the Danube (thus the need for the ferry)! But my digression leads me to the heart of this blog when I visited Burgruine Aggstein, the castle ruin high atop a mountain overlooking the river. There is a fantastic aerial view of the castle by going to this link.

There is a medieval event at the ruins at the moment. People are arriving in costumes and there are tents where people are selling food, drink, medieval-looking toys, jewelry and many other things. My goal was to tour the castle, which I accomplished. However, I also ate a hearty meal of roasted ham, grilled cabbage, and a dough ball that contained I know not what except for the horseradish that lingered through the night!

It is believed that the castle was constructed in the 12th century on a natural rock formation. It is located approximately 300 meters above the river and has excellent views of the river in either direction. The strategic value was to excise bounty from the merchants as they moved their goods past this point by boat. For example, the castle dungeon held many until a handsome ransom would be paid! You can learn more about Aggstein by clicking this link.

IMG_0359
Aggstein Chapel
The castle contains interesting places such as a blacksmith shop, bakery, chapel, etc…but the title of this blog is about the “little rose garden” of owner Jorg Scheck who acquired the castle in 1429. He was a very brutal person. He is someone you just didn’t want to mess with as those he determined he didn’t care for soon found themselves on a rocky outcrop high on the mountain. It is about 1 -2 meters by 7-10 meters. Prisoners had a choice from this perch. They could starve as they were exposed to the elements or they could jump to their death from this steep cliff. Scheck was a cynical person and referred to this outcrop as his “little rose garden.”

The "little rose garden" with a prisoner contemplating his fate
The “little rose garden” with a prisoner contemplating his fate

Rose Garden Entrance
Rose Garden Entrance
I have included a photo leading to the rose garden through the thick castle wall. Note the carved out steps worn smooth over the centuries. And also pictured is the rose garden itself.

Many visit the Wachau Valley but river cruises may not stop at a place convenient to visit Burgruine Aggstein. This is really too bad. If you come to the area, this is one place to not miss.

Inside Aggstein
Inside Aggstein

“Old” is a Relative Term in Krems, Austria

So the past few days I have been out and about in Krems, Austria and there is so very much to absorb here! Yesterday alone I walked over 7 miles in awe! I am like a sponge soaking up Krems and I admit it is overwhelming! I will be writing more in the future about what I am seeing and doing as well as my reflections of this beautiful, historic town and area along the Danube River.

As I have said previously, Krems is “old” and I am so consumed with the architecture that I am rapidly filling the memory in my iPhone as I take one photo after another. But today I felt like I have to draw a line otherwise I would be taking pictures of everything! So the line I drew is this…unless it has some particular aesthetic value, I want to take photos if the structure (or whatever) came about prior to 1600! So that, for now, will be my guide for photographing and sharing “old” Krems.

FullSizeRender (4)Krems is the eastern gateway to the Wachau Valley which is a World Heritage Site. Today I want to share with you a photo of a local fountain and the story that goes with it, The fountain is near my apartment and is of a man on a knee before a woman with the inscription “SIMANDL”. I thought it was a man proposing marriage but it turns out that “simandl” means “henpecked!” The monument is about the story of the town’s men and, in this case, a man imploring his wife to give him the house key so he can participate in a man’s night out! You can read more about this very interesting fountain at this link here.

The food is terrific! I have eaten pork in many ways and there are so many cafes to grab a fragrant coffee, bold wine, or warm strudel in vanilla sauce. Even though it was cold today, I along with others ate fresh-made ice cream! Who can resist a cone for 1 Euro (about $1.10)!

More soon, my friends!

My Day Trip Adventure to Ronda, Espana

A day trip to beautiful Ronda is a “must do” when in southern Spain!

While in southern Spain I have ventured to several nearby places. Previously I have mentioned my day trip to Gibraltar and in this post I am going to write about my journey to Ronda.

Ronda is only a short bus or train ride away and I went by bus on a small group tour. The town is high in the mountains and there are plenty of twists and turns to get there. Like so much of Spain, there is a great deal of history and different cultural communities associated with Ronda. It dates toWells prehistoric times and has seen settlement by the Celts, Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Spanish. Today’s architecture reflects the influence of Arabs and Spanish.

Earnest Hemingway and Orson Wells lived portions of their lives in Ronda and Wells is buried there. Although these individuals are well known for their literary and theatrical contributions, the town of 35,000 and the country have been heavily influenced by bull fighting and is reported to be the home of the sport. Outside Ronda’s Plaza de Toros is a statue honoring the most famous matador, Pedro Romero Martinez, who allegedly fought 5558 bulls without IMG_0802being seriously injured!  Across Spain are 30 foot high monuments to bulls and the sport as seen in the photo.

Of the most famous of landmarks in Ronda, though, is the Puente Nuevo or the “New Bridge.” The name is misleading as the New Bridge construction began in 1751 and was completed in 1793. This massive structure is about 390 feet above the canyon floor and connects the two parts of Ronda. In the photo, can you see the people standing on top? The bridge not only connects the town but also was a part of the IMG_0882judicial system in Ronda where once found guilty of a capital offense, the guilty party was quickly tossed over the edge to his death.

Ronda is a beautiful town but does have a large number of tourists in it. I love Ronda, the sites and the food. There are places to eat everywhere and serve a variety of dishes from all over the world.

My Day Trip to Gibraltar

It has been a magical time here in Andalusia, Spain reminding me why I have settled here. Snow is beginning to form on a few distant mountain tops but not in the sea-side towns that hug the Mediterranean coastline in southern Spain. Oranges are ripe on the trees that line the streets in a unique display of orange spheres hung to celebrate Christmas!

The air yesterday was warm in the middle 60’s when I visited nearby Gibraltar and today as I blog with my terrace door open. Yesterday I shed my jacket to enjoy the warm air. And last evening from my terrace I could see the mountains in northern Africa seeming to spring from nowhere across the Mediterranean Sea as the sun dropped in the western sky in a beautiful blaze of red, orange and yellow!

IMG_2572

I enjoy traveling and have gone to several of the southern Spain communities. But recently I read a blog about Gibraltar and found a day tour for only 38 Euros. On clear days (like today) I can see Gibraltar on the distant horizon from my terrace, so yesterday I went exploring.

Although located on the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar isn’t Spanish but, by treaty, it is British! The language is English (and almost all of the 30,000 residents are bi-lingual) and everything is imported. They have their own currency equivalent to the English pound sterling. It is but 6 square kilometers big! The day was like being instantly teleported from one culture to another!

IMG_2549Gibraltar is famous for its iconic “Rock of Gibraltar” where the vast Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Through the Straits of Gibraltar international shipping commerce has taken place through southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia for centuries. With a warm sea breeze atop the rock and a clear sky, I was in awe of the strategic rock looking out at places that have been and continue to be of major importance to our civilization.IMG_2555

Gibraltar is the town at the base of the Rock. To get to it our tour bus passed through Spanish and British passport control. Gibraltar has a one-of-a-kind airport (on reclaimed land) where the road from La Linea, Spain crosses the runway! Yes, when an airplane lands or takes off, the road is closed similar to when a bridge opens to permit a boat to pass under a highway!

To the north and west of the Rock is the town of Gibraltar (pictured with La Linea and the airport runway) and to the south is Europa Point with its lighthouse, mosque, World War II tribute memorial to Sikorsky, and a memorial to Harding’s Battery originally constructed in 1869.

IMG_0930  IMG_0927  IMG_0929  IMG_0928

Gibraltar has numerous statues to honor its place in military history and the heritage from Spain, the Moors, Romans, and British. Monuments include a cemetery for those that died in Gibraltar from the 1803 Battle of Trafalgar in the Napoleonic Wars as well as monuments to the Corps of Royal Engineers (the Royal Engineers were formed as a military entity at Gibraltar in 1772) and to those who fought in World War I.

IMG_2560  IMG_2564  IMG_2569  IMG_0942  IMG_2534

The town streets have a definite British feel with stores like Marks and Spenser and pubs with names like The Angry Friar. This is definitely not Spain!

The Rock is over 400 meters high which is taller that the Empire State Building or the Eifel Tower. Inside are more that 50 km of tunnels large enough for trucks! A highlight of the day came at Saint Michael’s Cave (also known as the Entrance to Hades). The cave has beautiful formations BUT for me, the presence of numerous monkeys is particularly interesting. In all, it was a wonderful, splendid day!

IMG_0933  IMG_0941  IMG_2510 IMG_2474  IMG_0939

Visits to Fuengirola, Andalucia, Spain

Hello, Friends!

IMG_2432

On December 5 I received my Non-lucrative Residence Visa from the Spanish Government! Obtaining the visa was quite the challenge with two in-person visits to the Spanish Consulate in New York City and numerous forms, letters, documents, translations, photos, and certifications. In total I presented about 1 inch of documentation and paid several fees to get the visa which is good for 90 days (in addition to the 90 days permitted by the normal tourist visa). Within that time, I have to complete two additional forms, pay 15.30 Euros for taxes, get finger printed, register as a Mijas Pueblo resident and obtain a residency card that will permit me to stay for a year.

IMG_2058This morning I went to Fuengirola to the local Policia Nacional to get moving on the application process for the residency card. Fuengirola is the sea-side resort town which is about 7 kilometers down the mountain from Mijas Pueblo. I have been there several times since October and am today posting photos taken on various trips to town and one looking up the mountain at Mijas Pueblo.

In Summer Fuengirola has a large number of tourists mainly from all over Europe. On my first trip to the town in September it was quite hot in the 90’s and even today it is balmy in the low 60’s. Pictured is a woman getting a beach massage in October for 10 Euros. For those curious about the photo, all beaches in Spain are top-optional for women and approximately 20% choose the option.

IMG_1978There are several statues in Fuengirola and included is a photo of one taken at the port and one of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (of Columbus fame). Currently oranges are now ripe and several streets in Fuengirola are lined with beautiful orange trees, mixed with Christmas decorations.

liebster-award2I am planning to visit Gibraltar this week and will be posting another blog after doing so. Also, I want to thank Marigold for nominating my blog for the Liebster Award. I have not met Marigold but enjoy her blog and I will post more later about the nomination. Meanwhile, please visit Marigold’s blog at http://versusblurb.wordpress.com.