The Charles Bridge Quartet, Prague

I have a feeling these four are a regular weekend attraction for people walking the Charles Bridge on a Saturday, as I was. I am not sure how to characterize their sound – jazz of a sort I suppose. I enjoyed listening for a few minutes while I snapped a few photos, and before walking on, I put 100 Czech Koruna (a bit less than $5.00) in the guitar case. The clarinet player gave me a look as if to say, “Is that all?” Whatever, it was before noon, and it was clear the band would walk away with, at the very least, enough geld for a good dinner and several pints of fine Czech beer later in the day.


Old Town Gate, the Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge spans the Vtlava River, connecting Prague’s Old Town on the east bank of the river with Lesser Town and Prague Castle on the west bank. Construction of the bridge began in 1357 and was completed in 1402; the Charles replaced an older span that had been damaged by flooding. Wikipedia’s Charles Bridge entry is a relatively short, interesting piece about the the history of this Prague landmark.

My visit to the bridge began with an early morning walk along the banks of the Vltava River. The comfy budget hotel where I stayed on the Old Town side of the river was located on a street that nobody would label picturesque, but I was only about 150m from the Vltava. It was an overcast morning, and the weather forecast called for rain, gusty winds and falling temperatures beginning later in the morning. My plan was to walk along the river until the weather became threatening, at which point I would return to the hotel or seek shelter in a café.

Sure enough, a bit more than an hour into my walk, the wind began huffing and puffing, and I turned away from the river and headed into the Old Town where I could find someplace to sit if it started to rain. As I checked the map to get my bearings, I realized that my walk had brought fairly close to the entrance of the Charles Bridge. No more than 10 minutes from the bridge, I decided to take a chance with the weather and walk over. As I approached the Gothic Old Town Gate of the bridge (pictured here), the solid gray overcast gave way rather suddenly to puffy white clouds with rays of sunshine peeking through. Instead of blowing in a rainy day, the wind had carried the rain clouds away. Delighted with this happy turn of the wheel, I realized it was time to walk across the Charles Bridge, and that is exactly what I set out to do. (To be continued with more photos at a later date.)


A Warren of Tourists, Venice

I am not a well-organized traveler. I do not really map out my visits to a place in great detail. I generally have a list of sites I would like to visit, call them tactical objectives, but I do not have a strategic plan to “conquer” all of those tactical objectives. I am as mystified as I am impressed with people who plan out their trips in methodical detail – day one, starting with a tour of A, followed by a walk to C, stopping along the way for a break at cafe B with a splendid reputation, and so on. I set out with my camera in hand, as often as not just walking and letting my eye determine where my feet take me. Sometimes I start with a minimalist plan, heading for tactical objective A, occasionally with the idea of heading next for objective B.

On my first day in Venice, I got an early start, taking a vaporetto from Lido Island where I was staying to a stop on the north side of the main island. I had meant to take a vaporetto to the south side of the island, but got my numbers confused and ended up on the north side. I did not really have any idea where on the north side I should go, so after consulting Google Maps, I picked a stop arbitrarily, got off, fired up my Nikon, and started walking. The time stamp on the first photo I took after getting off the vaporetto is 7:40 am, still fairly early on a Saturday morning. There were not many people out.

That first walk left me breathless – I was in Venice! And it was as amazing as I had expected it would be. I had no idea where I was headed, I just kept walking. Eventually, after 45 minutes or so, I found myself in bright sun looking out at the lagoon. I had crossed the island and was not too far from the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s, so I set out to see the famous center of Venice. It was now around 8:30 in the morning and already there were quite a few people walking around and looking at the sights.

In an out-of-character bow to advance planning, several weeks before leaving Vietnam, I had purchased a Venice Museum pass, which gained me free, don’t-wait-in-line admission to the Doge’s Palace and several other museums in the city. I was standing in front of the palace, and there was not likely to be a better time to visit, so in I went. I rented an audio tour device, which had a lot of interesting information, but in the end it was too much detail, more than I needed or could follow. I listened to some of the tour, but spent a lot of my time just letting my eyes soak in the visual feast that is the palace.

My museum time threshold is 90 minutes or so, maybe a couple of hours max. In any case, after a couple of hours in the palace, I was getting very antsy and needed to get out. What I could not do was find a way to exit the museum without finishing the tour. Whether early escape exit paths exist, I cannot say, but I never found one. I came instead to a sign that informed me the next and final part of the tour was of the prison in the Doge’s Palace, and I could take the short tour or the extended tour including the dungeons. I definitely opted for the short tour, which proceeded through narrow bare-rock passages, where I somehow became trapped in the middle of a large guided tour of Germans. Narrow passages, as in, I could not get past the German tour, which was moving at a slow pace while the museum guide explained the sights. In great detail and, not surprisingly, in German. Ah, so. Eventually, I managed to squirm out in front of the Germans, and thankfully found myself in front of a sign that said exit.

Released to the fresh air of a magnificent October day, I wanted to escape crowded St. Mark’s Square and find a relatively quiet cafe where I could have a bite to eat, and sit for awhile to regroup. I consulted Google Maps again, and struck out towards the center of the island. Immediately, I found myself in a maze-like warren of narrow lanes surrounding the square. The lanes were packed with people, and I could not find a way out. I ended up going in circles, coming back to the same place repeatedly. Not unlike Frodo and Sam trying to escape the rocky Brown Lands on their way to Mordor. Not that I was planning a visit to Mordor. Forget it. Bad analogy. I found myself tired, hungry, and in the midst of a minor anxiety attack that only went away after I finally escaped the St. Mark’s area, eventually making it to a small outdoor cafe along side a canal. It was past lunch time and only one of the tables was occupied with people speaking Italian who acted as if they might actually live in Venice. The food and coffee were excellent, the waiter was charming and friendly in an Italian way, and I ended my visit to St. Mark’s Square in an altogether pleasant, relaxing setting.

I read somewhere that Venice has fewer tourist arrivals, on average, in October than in any other month of the year. Maybe, but the city was hardly empty during my visit. I suppose everyplace on the city’s relatively small main island gets its share of visitors, but that visit to St. Mark’s Square and surroundings was only area I found especially – oppressively – crowded during my stay in Venice. The post’s image attempts to capture the claustrophobia of the area just beyond the square.


Evening Dinner, Saigon

This small restaurant, typical of hundreds of thousands of low end eateries in Saigon and elsewhere in Vietnam, appears to serve up rice with deep fried chicken (about $1.70) and five spices chicken noodles (about $1.90). I would not be surprised to find that these two meals and some beverages are all that is on the menu. Vietnamese fried chicken, by the way, is not dipped in batter before frying. The chicken pieces are simply rubbed in salt and pepper, then deep fried. Yes, the chicken is generally parboiled before frying.

This photo was taken when Minh and I visited Saigon in November, 2022.


Portrait of a Hoi An Barista

I do not envy this boy his job as a barista for Cộng Cà phê (Cong Coffee) – he is definitely underpaid and, at best, treated with indifference by his employer. Cộng Cà phê is a Hanoi-based chain that has outlets nationwide these days. As the boy’s work outfit suggests, Cộng Cà phê serves up a halcyon-days-of-war-and-hardcore-communism ambience for upmarket customers to bask in while sipping their coconut coffee. In fact “cộng” is one of the words combined with other words to mean “communism,” “communist,” and “communist party” in Vietnamese. It seems to have taken on this meaning because it sounds virtually identical to the Chinese character that combines with other characters to mean the same things in Chinese. In fairness, Cộng Cà phê serves up decent coffee and drinks.