Our next stop after Vienna was Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Frankly, I found Bratislava intimidating, because it was the first time I’d ever been in a country where the written language (on signs and so on) made no sense to me. I understand enough German and French to get by; in Amsterdam the language was close enough to German for me to guess at meaning (don’t tell the Dutch that!); anybody who lives in California has some idea of Spanish. But the Slavic languages are a mystery to me. Fortunately everyone I really needed to talk to spoke English.
The earliest recorded town in this location was founded by Celtic tribes around 200 B.C.; when the Roman Empire expanded this far north, the town became part of the Limes Romanus, or the border of the Empire. The town has had at least four names over its history; the country has only been independent since the Velvet Divorce in 1993.
Today I got rid of the least satisfactory desktop computer I ever bought, an HP Pavilion Slimline s5280t. If you have one of these loads of crap, and it’s still running, buy a new replacement immediately and transfer everything. If you wait, you may not be able to.
Here’s the failure timeline:
- Nov. 2009 – bought the system and paid for extended “house call” support (a colossal mistake)
- July 2010 – the power supply failed. Online tech support was trying to coax me to “prove” it was a bad power supply by removing the motherboard (I am not making this up), when I balked and insisted on talking to a supervisor. Getting a tech out to replace the power supply cost me an extra $200 which I consider close to extortion. The damn thing was under standard warranty.
- Dec. 2010 – the scheduled monthly hardware maintenance tool showed a hardware failure on the drive (which was one year old!) and when I called tech support they had me run a separate BIOS test which also failed. Tech support confirmed this means the drive is failing. This time they shipped a new drive and sent out a tech to install it without any arguments; apparently they knew about this. I had even more trouble when I tried to restore a disk image taken with a new program which I didn’t fully understand, but I can’t blame that on HP; eventually I had to do a full rebuild.
- Dec. 2012 – H-P sent out a routing upgrade to their Support Assistant (the program that did the hardware checks) which was so buggy I couldn’t install it. I couldn’t get any sense out of H-P. Since it wouldn’t run, I uninstalled it and ran blind on hardware problems from then on.
- Aug. 2013 – got a very strange message, “can’t access the D drive due to a recently installed update.” System extremely slow. Eventually ran CHKDSK which fixed errors in the master file table BITMAP. I don’t have notes on the next item but it was just a couple of weeks later that the system wouldn’t come up at all. I took it in to East Bay Computer Center in Oakland for diagnosis. They said the disk was so far gone they couldn’t even recover data from it; they also said it was a poor-quality refurb. Thanks, H-P support. The only good thing about this is that it died the day after I took my regular local backup, so once they’d built me a new Win7 Pro 64 bit drive, I was able to restore all my data. And rebuild all my programs…
- Sept. 2014 – the power supply from July 2010 failed. East Bay Computer now has the whole box and will build me a new drive and transfer the data from the old hard drive (which should be good because they installed it!). They also said they get these H-P boxes in with problems all the time.
It’s only 4 failures, you say. True, but four extremely disruptive and annoying failures in 5 years. I’ve had Dell computers that ran for 5 years without a single problem; I’m pretty sure I had a Dell that ran for 6 or 7 years without any problem. When I think of the days when Hewlett-Packard was the absolute gold standard for any kind of technical equipment, it just makes me cry.
In any case, I’m somewhat limited in my ability to respond to email these days, so bear with me. I hope to get the new system back by the middle of next week.
Between tours we had some time to explore St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The current form of the cathedral dates to the mid-14th century, a combination of the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The first church on the site was consecrated in 1147. The Wikipedia article has detail on the cathedral’s ring of bells, which is still in use, although we didn’t hear it. I’ve been interested in church bells since reading Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. The Wikipedia article has much interesting information about the cathedral.
In some towns, the Dom or the church is up on a hill (so people can take refuge in it when the river floods). I didn’t check the topo map for Vienna, but the Dom here is right downtown, in (of course) the Stephensplatz. In fact it’s right across the square from some of the most modern architecture you can imagine:
St. Stephen’s, Vienna
The bulgy glass edifice is Hans Hollein’s “Haas Haus.” Wikipedia doesn’t have much on it, and neither did any of the tourist sites I found when I Googled it; it’s just a building. It seems to have been built deliberately to reflect the Dom.
Notice the elaborate tile patterns on the Dom roof. You’ll see it again in Budapest, where it’s even gaudier, when I get that tour posted. I don’t know if that’s a Central European thing or what. None of the other cathedrals had patterned tile roofs. Notice also the three black gables with Gothic arches, on this side of the Dom below the tile roof. Those are not black because they’re in shadow. They’re black because they haven’t been cleaned yet, from seven hundred odd years of wood and coal smoke! That’s what the scaffolding is all about, next to them.
Well, not entirely – but a good deal of our “Vienna city walk” was done on a bus, hence the odd things that sometimes appear in my photos. You’ll only see the ones I could reasonably salvage. If you just want to go look at photos, you’ll find the Vienna gallery at this link.
The first thing we saw as we turned into town was the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, in Mexicoplatz:
St. Francis of Assisi Church, in Mexicoplatz
Also known as the Kaiser Jubilee Church and the Mexicokirche, it was built around the turn of the 20th century to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and consecrated in 1910. I was interested because of the combination of church styles: all those round arches are very Romanesque, and yet it has a handsome set of flying buttresses, usually associated with the later Gothic style. The bus turned a corner, and we continued our tour.
Returning from the gym on Easter Sunday, in the course of an errand I was driving down San Pablo Avenue near the 580 overpass, instead of rolling straight home on the freeway. While driving, I saw a truly wonderful sight. Two cars in front of me was a car containing a person in a white rabbit suit, waving to the people on the sidewalk! I couldn’t see the details until we both got into a left turn lane. The car was an ancient pale yellow Dodge GT convertible, top down, with an original California license plate from the ’60s – 3 yellow letters and 3 yellow numbers on a black background. It had fins. I couldn’t tell you who was in the rabbit suit because all I could see was the back of its head.
And when I dived into my purse for my smartphone – I realized I’d forgotten it. So all you get is a verbal description from me; but it absolutely made my day. Happy Easter to all.
Having left Melk Abbey around noon, we sailed on down the Danube toward the Wachau Valley. This was the first day we had had unfettered access to the soi-disant “sun deck,” and of course it was overcast, although by the time we set out the rain which had poured down on Melk had slacked off. As usual, this post includes some but not all of the photos I took that afternoon; you can find more of them at the gallery Dürnstein and Wachau Valley. You can also see larger versions of anything in the gallery.
Melk Abbey is a famous Benedictine abbey in Austria, in the town of Melk on the Danube River. (Well, famous to the cognoscenti; I never heard of it before the trip.) I can’t give you the panoramic photo from across the valley because, first, we never saw it until the buses dropped us in the parking lot, and second, the day we visited, it rained buckets, off and on. Here’s a view of the town and the river, from the walls of the abbey, part way through the tour. If it looks as though rain is pouring down, it is.
We visited my sister right after Christmas. Among other things she was recovering from a fall which chipped a bone in her foot, so we didn’t get out much, but we had a good time anyway. Jim and I went hiking in the Red Rock recreational area, especially the Calico Hills:
Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald translates as “Museum Town Bavarian Forest” – isn’t the German nicer and more euphonious? This is an open-air museum some miles from Passau, in Tittling. (Yes, really.) The bus ride took us about an hour, as I recall, through the Bavarian countryside.
You can barely see a range of hills through the mist – we were told that was in the Czech Republic. It was a lovely day if rather warm.
We were supposed to dock in Passau at 9:45 AM and spend two and a half hours walking around the town and attending a noon organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, before returning to the ship for lunch. You’ll find all my photos in this gallery.
I’ve mentioned before that we had trouble with traffic jams at locks. At 9:45 that morning we were stuck in a major traffic jam at (I’m fairly sure) the Kachlet lock on the Danube, just upstream of Passau. I don’t know exactly how long we stayed there; my diary says that “we” (the passengers) suspected the Embla of paying off the barge Loretta so they could use its dock long enough to offload the passengers into buses. No proof of this except a photo of the Loretta, floating near the dock.