How are things state-side? It’s weird to think that I have been gone for three weeks; it seems like I just left a few days ago!
I had an incredible time in Vienna; not only did John and Susannah host me at their house, but Susannah was also kind enough to give me a tour of the eye clinic and hospital in Vienna. (I’m always interested in seeing how different health systems work, both from the patient perspective and as someone who now works for a hospital system!) It was interesting to see the similarities and differences from the health care system that I am used to as an American. I was surprised that a lot of the doctors’ struggles and challenges regarding reimbursement/charging/billing/time appear to be similar to those of doctors I’ve spoken with in the US!
After the tour, I went nearby to the Belvedere. After Versailles, it is hard to be impressed by low-key palace gardens, but the rain had lifted enough to let the sun shine through and offer a beautiful experience walking around the art museum inside and the gardens afterward. I also managed to make it to the national library, imperial treasury, and other parts of the Hofburg palace. I went down the street to see the “state apartments” (gorgeous, although sometimes their taste in wallpaper was a little bit questionable) and found out that there were a few art exhibitions and a gallery in the same museum. At this point, I was feeling a little art fatigue, but I was blown away. One of the exhibitions was an American artist who dealt mostly with screenprints and lithographs as art. The gallery on the top floor also had an amazing neoimpressionist collection that I admired until I was politely asked to leave since it was closing!
From Vienna, I took the train to Breclav and on to Prague. I apparently looked a little lost when trying to figure out which platform to get to in Breclav, so a guy came up to me and started explaining in Deutsch to go up to the waiting room. I stared blankly until I remembered myself enough to say, “I’m sorry, I only speak English” and he immediately switched to English. We rode on to Prague together; he’s originally an Englishman living in Vienna who commutes to work in Prague each week! A long but rewarding commute, I would imagine.
I met my brother Chris in Prague, who is accompanying me in the last portion of this amazing adventure. He was pretty jetlagged, so the rest of the day we wandered around the city, checking out the bridges and walking through the old town square and doing a little bit of shopping. We also encountered our first Czech cuisine. Simply put, it is huge and hearty. I think the first day he had shnitzel that was the size of a plate itself; I ordered a potato and broccoli dish that came in a vat! The second day, we toured the Jewish Quarter and wandered up to the Prague Castle after detouring across the river for lunch. It was cold and raining by the time we made it up the stairs, where some policemen were cordoning off an area.
Apparently, we made it right in time for the castle guard exhibition. It included the motorcycle squad driving in circles for a few minutes (to demonstrate their effectiveness in guarding the president & any official state guests as a motorcade), and then a traditional guard demonstration including marching, rifle tossing (similar to my high school color guard rifle routine, except our rifles a) weren’t used to shoot and b) didn’t have huge lethal knives attached to the end!), and a band. It was a great show, but afterward we felt the cold (43 degrees) and rain. We spent several hours touring the different palaces, museums, cathedrals, etc. that make up the “castle” area before finally squelching back across the river for a change of dry clothes and some dinner. Our third day included more great food and photography of some of the amazing architecture there, and wandering around the castle gardens and vineyards nearby.
Next, we came to Berlin. I have been to Berlin before and wanted to show it to Chris, who has previously only visited other parts of Germany. Yesterday we spent wandering around Unter de Linden and getting pictures of the main monuments. We spent an hour in line to get into the Parliament (Reichtag) building and up the lift to the incredible views on top of the roof. Today, we took a 5 hour bike tour around the city. This was the first time I have done a bike tour (compared to previous walking tours or hop on/off buses) – and I highly recommend the experience! It was the perfect mix of a beautiful day, managing to get to all the key sights in the city, and a great description of the key facts of the areas we were visiting. Our tour also included a stop at a biergarten – I’m sure everyone will be disappointed that I was drinking diet coke, but my brother tried the local beer that was recommended and said it was great. I also tried some of the German sausage they were grilling for lunch, which was great!
Speaking of food, I have been so impressed with the gluten-free options here in Europe. I was worried about finding food in restaurants or snacks along the way. However, I found an amazing selection of restaurants in Italy, health food stores with snacks in Prague, and even more gluten-free snacks and options in grocery stores here in Berlin! The only problem is I don’t have enough room in my backpack to bring back one of everything :).
Tomorrow we are heading to Copenhagen – I have been dying to visit Denmark ever since I met my Danish friends in Cape Town at the 2006 World Diabetes Congress. We’ll spend 2 days there, 1 day in Sweden, a few days in Amsterdam, and the rest of the trip will be hiking in Switzerland!
Talk to you soon,