Monday, December 27, 2010

Mystery Photo 1: Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

     For those of you who pondered where this photo was taken, the answer is Budapest. Actually the view is of the Parliament Building in Pest, Hungary, the third largest Parliament building in the world. Perhaps not everyone knows that Budapest is really two cities. Buda is on the high hilly side of the Danube River. It is quieter, more hilly and more green, less urban. It is the side where the Imperial Palace (Buda Castle), Matthias Church, and the fortifications known as Fisherman's Bastion are located. It is from the Buda side that this photo of the Parliament Building was taken. The city of Pest is located on the flat plain on the other side of the Danube River. Pest is more bustling, commercial, and urban. It contains the government buildings including the Parliament. The two were separate in ancient times because there were no bridges to cross the wide Danube River. But in 1873 the two cities merged along with Obuda, or the Old City of Buda, and have been under the same administration since that time. But guides and some locals still talk about the two sides of the Danube as separate cities and it comes up in conversation of both historical and current nature.

     We were in Budapest about 4 years ago but the weather was bad. I recall running in the rain from the guide's car to the shelter of Fisherman's Bastion to get some photos. But we could barely see the Chain Bridge or Parliament Building below, it was so foggy and with the rain. As you can tell from our photos this time the weather was beautiful. Budapest is a very attractive city. It is filled with wonderful architecture, sidewalk cafes, beautiful government and public buildings, lots of churchs and the second largest synogogue in the world. It has monuments, and history, having been the Capitol of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a time. The population was once 23% Jewish but World War I and II changed that. Still inspite of WWII there is still a fairly large and active Jewish population. We spent considerable time in the Jewish Quarter. Perhaps I will do another post later about the beautiful large synogogue and its surrounds. The city also has the oldest underground railway or Subway in Europe.  We enjoyed our stay in Budapest very much. Following are some photos of the sites we saw from perhaps a different perspective than the typical photos on Wikipedia, etc.

     Here's the old couple sitting at a sideway cafe savoring our soft drinks. Do we look like the world travelers that we are? Well, at least we weren't doing what the following man was doing, though we wondered what this would taste like.

                                                       St Stephen's  Basilica                                                        
 Danube River Promenade, along major hotels and outdoor cafes.

                                                  Gresham Palace, near Parliament                                   

The Parliament Building from the street side.

                                                Pariliament central tower, at night.
                                    Hero's Square
                                             Liberty Bridge across the Danube
Memorial Silver Leaf Tree, behind The Great Synogogue, seen above from the front..                  

Matthias Church and the Hilton to its right, Fishermans Bastion in midground.

Foot of Fisherman's Bastion on Buda's flank, along Danube River

The Chain Bridge at night.

The Imperial Palace which now houses 2 museums, and a library, Fisherman's Bastion in forground.

the modern Performing Art Center along the Danube River.
The Inner City Parish Church, often called The Church of Our Lady, thought to be oldest church in Pest, dating from the 1700s. There was a church on this site in the 12th century. The church built here in 1688 burnt down in 1723 and was replaced by this current church.

     How is this for the follow up on a mystery photo? As you can see Budapest is indeed a beautiful city. If I had a chance I would go back. There is lots to see. I didn't even put any photos of a trip we took out of the city to Lazar's Borthers Carriage Driving Farm, and to Godolla, the baroque palace of the Austro-Hungarian royalty when Budapest was the capitol for the Hungarian part of the empire, called the Dual Monarchy, from the mid 1800s to 1918 when the Autro Hungarian Empire was defeated in WWI. As on many of our trips there is much complex history to be learned and not always remembered.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mystery Photo 1

What is this building and where is it located? Enter your guesses in "comments" below.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Greetings!!

                                                      Christmas at Grandma's House 1940

 I would like to send Holiday greetings to all my readers from around the world!! Of course, most people know the origin of the Christmas Holiday, the birth of Jesus Christ, in about 2 BCE, whom the Christian Church has proclaimed Son of God, and center of the religion of Christianity. The early centuries of Christianity did not recognize this holiday or even the importance of Christ and his life story to the Christian religion. It was not until the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the proclaimed religion of the roman Empire in the 4th century CE that Christianity spread. Then multiple edicts from the Roman authorities over centuries changed the face of Christianity so that it probably would not be recognized by Christ himself should he appear again.

     With my research in genealogy over the years I have read about, thought about and written about Christmas traditions and memories of more modern times. In the United States, as I learned, Christmas was not always a heart-warming holiday as we think of it today. We know that the Puritans in New England didn't begin to celebrate Chritmas until the late 1800's because it was regarded as a Pagan holiday and because of the rowdy nature of the celebrations in non-Puritan circles. Cromwell in England had outlawed Christmas celebrations because they were "papist", i.e. too Roman Cahtolic. In other areas of our country, Christmas was a man's holiday and consisted of revelry and rowdiness, and bawdiness. The Victorian Christmas as we know it combined English and German customs when Prince Albert of Germany married Queen Victoria in 1848. The Holiday first became civilized in England and the observances brought men home to be with their families. Also at Christmas, society moved towards taking care of the "lowly" and powerless, i.e. presenting gifts to servants on Boxer's Day, (the day after Christmas), to the poor, and last but not least to the little children. Decorating the house, Christmas trees adopted from German pagan custom, family gatherings, and emphasizing the meaning of Christmas are really relatively modern day interpretations of the holiday. In this country, Christmas in the South first became a warm family holiday following in the footsteps of England and Germany. Finally through the years those warm customs overtook the Puritan ethic in the north of the country and slowly the Christmas of today developed. Of course now many people think that the Holiday has outgrown its britches, so to speak. The commercialization and tremendous growth of gift giving and spending has become important to the economy but many feel it has outshown the real meaning of Christmas.

     Aren't we lucky that these traditions have become the source of modern memories? Currently I think that most countries, at least most that we have visited, no matter their religious practices know of Christmas and love the festivities. Also from my SpiritMindBody group study of spiritual traditions from around the world, almost all religions share traditions of their own that provide that warm, homey feeling of family and memories.

     So no matter your spiritual tradition, worldview, or belief system, I would like to wish you all the warm feelings in the Spirit of Christmas. May you all enjoy happiness, good fortune and health during this season and into the New Year of 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Two of My Favorite Toys

    It occurs to me that in this blog I have not returned to my antique toy collection since one of the very first blogs. It is Christmas time and it would seem a good time to describe two of my favorite toys and what I know about their history.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Disappointment by Gastroenteritis!!

      A personal story and some info about gastroenteritis -- the stomach flu.

     This weekend we were planning a trip to our son's home in Indiana to attend our grandson's 1st birthday celebration. We also were planning on celebrating Christmas the next day. With birthday presents and Christmas presents all lined up at the back door ready to be loaded in the car, with some bottles of wine from my wine cellar to also celebrate my son's earning his master's degree (on top of his MD), and an Edible Arrangements fruit basket to pick up on the way, and some of my son's favorite food in the form of a chicken enchilada to take along, I was excited about seeing both our grandsons. I should have known something was brewing when I didn't feel like eating any dinner Thursday night.  Seldom do I not have an appetite. Then I woke up at about midnight and the rest of the night I spent in the bathroom-- one of the worst cases of gastroentiritis I ever remember suffering. I won't go into the details but it was wretching and wretched. After no sleep the following morning I was very weakened, and afraid I wouldn't keep anything down including just liquids. But the whole thing subsided during the day we were supposed to be traveling. Needless to say we didn't go; you don't take a gastroenteritis bug into a home with two small children. We canceled our orders for the Edible Arrangements and for the chicken enchiladas. Today is the birthday and my daughter-in-law just called after the party ended. She said half of the people who were supposed to come to the party with their children also suffered similar illnesses. So this bug must be going around all over the Midwest. I know my mother and my sister got a similar illness after attending a Church Fellowship in Illinois the Sunday after Thanksgiving. About 20 people who were at that event got sick. As a doctor I wonder what the germ is, and wonder if it could have been the Norwalk virus because of its virulence and its infectiousness.

     Wikipedia tells me that one or another genotype of the RNA virus now called Norovirus (used to be called the Norwalk agent)  is responsible for 95% of epidemic gastroenterities. Two genotypes of this virus are most responsible. This virus is very infectious with as few as 10 virus units enough to cause infection. The incubation time is 24 to 48 hours and the illness usually lasts 24 to 60 hours. But worse is that people tend to shed the virus for weeks after they are well. This means that I could have gotten it as I suspected when I visited Mom, either from surfaces or from a kiss I gave her as I left. I hate to blame my 93 year old mother but that could have been the source. I learned that alcohol does not kill the virus well, but chlorine does. So surfaces should be disinfected with chlorine bleach. Washing the hands with hot water and soap also helps but is not 100% effective at preventing the spread of the illness. In one source study a single food handler who was infected transmitted the disease to 30 people. Does it help me that I now know this information about this germ? No, but it is the doctor in me that demands I look it up.
     The disappointment of our canceled trip will soon fade, and we will schedule another weekend to take the presents to the two grandsons. I am still looking forward to this date. Life deals in surprises and disappointments and fortunately they usually don't last. We just have to keep that fact in mind.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near Death Experience by Jeffrey Long MD

     I am a member of a small group of seekers. We call ourselves the Spirit Mind Body Group. We meet weekly and we take turns presenting various topics that interest us in the field of spirituality, and its relationship to our lives, our bodies, our physical and mental health. Sometimes we just have what we call a Bake Off Session when we just throw out items that members have read and which moved them outside of the normal mundane day to day rhythms.
     Recently I presented a review of a 2010 book which I read and which impressed me immensely. The book is by Jeffrey Long MD, a radiation oncologist. I am posting my somewhat lengthy review here. I do apologize for its length but it really took that many words to even touch the surface of this fascinating subject.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vietnam on our trip to Southeastern Asia, December 13, 2010

     APOLOGIES!! Just when my readership numbers were getting up there, I don't post anything on blogger for 6 weeks. A sure way to lose your interest, dear readers. But I have a good excuse and not only that this last trip will provide gist for several new travelogs. Yes, that is correct. We took another trip!

     On November 13, we flew 13 hours from O'Hare to Tokyo, endured a 2 1/2 hour layover in the business lounge in the Tokyo airport, and then flew 5 1/2 hours from Tokyo to Hanoi. A Very Long Trip!. But such is the requirements if we want to travel 1/2 around the world -- exactly 12 hours away. This trip would take in several locations in Vietnam; Angkor Wat, Cambodia; and Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand.

     Vietnam was very interesting. My husband and I were very pleasantly surprised about this young country. We were a little worried as Americans traveling to a place where we were the enemies about 45 years ago. But actually 72% of residents of Vietnam are 29 or less. Such a young population has little memory or concern about a war that took place before most of them were born. However, we did take a walk through the central park of Hanoi where the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is and also where his house is. It was a Sunday and there was a day off of work. Everyone was out in their finest. There were several older men in their full military uniform and a couple were sporting their medals on their lapel as well. We Americans did get "a long serious look" from these men. Our guide says that the guides and drivers like Americans, probably because we know how to tip the guides. We know from personal observation that Europeans do not tip at all during guided tours.

     Some further comments about Vietnam:

     On walking through the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We were asked to line up in a line of pairs or single file. We had to slowly walk from the admittance gate through metal detectors. Cellphones and other electronic gear had to be checked. You could carry only one shoulder bag. Along the street, through the turn into the building, up the stairs and into the viewing room, there were guards posted all along the way. They reminded us to stand up straight, take our hands out of our pockets, hold any purse or bag still in our hands in front of us, not swinging wildly from our shoulders, and we were shushed several times. In this way a very subdued and respectful line filed past the venerated leader of North Vietnam who tirelessly worked for the unification of the North and the South. Of course, he also led the Communist Party to power which subdued the South and made it Communist as well.

     On freedoms in the People's Republic of Vietnam: We were standing at the check in desk of our hotel in Hanoi, when the bellhop came over to stand with me while Amos did the last signing for check in. He asked, "Is this your first time in Vietnam?" Strangely virtually everyone asks this question here. Do they think that US citizens go to Vietnam every few months because it's so exciting to visit?
"Yes," I answered. "We have traveled a lot, all over the world and now it is Southeast Asia."
"I will never be able to travel like that. It is very difficult to get a passport to be able to leave the country. And then it cost a lot of money." volunteered the bellhop.
I said, " Oh, you are very young. You can put away some money and you will be able to travel yet. You have time."
"No, I will never be able to travel outside my country," said the bellboy. "My parents both worked for the US government during the war, so never will I be able to leave."

    You see Ho Chi Minh's ideal came true, but now the whole country is not free.

    But we were very impressed by the people. They are hardworking, honest, and very friendly. We were in the Mekong Delta, walking through the jungle, to visit a small village and a small village tea house. Here while having tea, we were listening to a small group play and sing  with traditional Vietnamese instruments. An elderly grey haired lady was watching us. She then saw the scar on my arm and came over and touched my arm with a great look of compassion on her face. I was touched.

    The Vietnamese are very clean. The ladies and older young girls often still wear the traditional dress. It is called the au dais and consists of two long panels of colorful cloth, sometimes plain color, sometimes with a print. They hang from the waist and are totally open on each side. Underneath these panels, the young women wear long slim pants in a complimentary color. The cloth is either silk or nylon. The women appear very attractive in this outfit.

     The "Hanoi Hilton" was listed on our itinerary. But it appeared that our guide, Nam, in Hanoi was going to over look it. At one point, he said we would be driving by it and we would be able to see it from the road, that he would point it out to us. We were almost by it when he said something like, "That building back there was the "Hanoi Hilton", you know where your Senator John McCain stayed while he was here." We told Nam that we were supposed to see the inside of the museum there and could we please stop. He seemed reluctant but spoke with the driver and we turned around so that we could park and go inside. What is present here is only the entrance and two small wings on each side which now serve as a museum. The rest of the large prison complex which the French used also to house dissident Vietnamese has been torn down and there is a highrise modern hotel on the site. Inside about half of the museum is devoted to the brutality of the French during their control of the country. Then there is a section with propaganda about the "American War" as they call it. There is one room about John McCain with his flight suit and photos of when he was dragged from the Lake in the middle of downtown Hanoi. He certainly picked a lousy place to crash land his plane. It seemed during the whole walk through, that our guide was hurrying us through. It was the only time that we felt uncomfortable about our visit here, and I am still not sure why our guide didn't want us to visit this place.

     In driving up and over the pass through the mountains between Hue and Danang, we made a stop at the top of the pass. Above all we needed a restroom, but also we wanted a chance to photograph the view of the sea below. By the time I made my way from our car door to the restroom inside the tiny building, a young Vietnamese woman knew that my first name was Ann, that I was from Milwaukee, WI, that I had two grown sons and two grandsons, that I was in Vietnam on vacation for the first time, and I had learned that my young attendant's name was Lien and she had four children and a fifth on the way. When I came out of the small, slightly primitive but immaculate restroom, there was already hot coffee and hot tea set out for us. And now Lien began her hard sell. She sat in front of a narrow pressed aluminum table with trays of beads and bracelets all set before here. She seated us in the plastic lawn chairs and began her hard sell on the tiger eye bracelets that had caught my eye. She began to make me a larger bracelet for my wrist and when she saw that I was going to buy this, she began working on my husband to make one for him as well. Just working the bracelet and talking, laughing, joking and selling, Lien was a delight. I couldn't help but buy from here, and we bought two such bracelets.

     I had a mission during this trip. I had in my possession a little 8 inch tall stuffed dog named Owney which was purchased from the Smithsonian Museum. He represents a true dog that existed in the late 1800s and became a mail dog, riding on mail railroad cars all over the US. The postmen fed him and attached mail tags to his color and later to a jacket someone made for him. The Smithsonian sells children's books about Owney's story and this stuffed version of the dog. I took him along with me to get pictures of him all over Southeast Asia so that we can use those pictures and postcards home that he sends to involve our youth stamp club in countries around the world and their stamps. I explained this mission to Tom, our guide in Saigon. Tom is in his twenties and unmarried. He was taken by Owney and volunteered to carry him around until Amos could get some pictures of Owney near some of the sites. I explained to Tom that Owney would be a "chick magnet." He looked puzzled so of course I had to explain what a chick is: a young attractive woman and how the word magnet applied to this situation. He finally understood. And indeed females of all ages and even some boys and young men came over and petted Owney and commented about him to Tom. When we were at the teashop in the Mekong Delta, that grey haired lady made a fuss over Owney and over Tom. I turned to him and mouthed the words: "Chick magnet". He understood. I should really send him an Owney of his own.

     In Saigon, we visited the buildings that had housed the government of South Vietnam. Tom conducted a very nice walk through here. Then we were in the Museum of War Remnants. This museum is very much like similar museums in Russia. The ground floor and outside court are full of various armaments from all wars and both sides, so here there are both Chinese and US planes and tanks, and munitions. On the second floor are photos with propaganda along side showing the so called "atrocities of the American devils." But on the thrid floor was a photo display that Tom said on the way up the stairs, "will show you how things really were." It was a photo display that toured the US and then was gifted to Vietnam and as far as I could tell was mounted without changing the explanations. I could discern no propaganda. It honored journalists that were killed in the Vietnam War and featured their often award winning photo credits. There were at least 3 spreads from Life Magazine. I found a journalist that had actually photographed WWII and then as a grey haired woman had insisted on coming to Vietnam to photograph that war. She was from Shorewood, WI, our neighbor. I had never heard of her. She died their on the battlefields of Vietnam, killed by the war.

     My husband is still organizing our photos from the trip so in this post photos are notably missing. But that will allow me to post again on this country. You have to see some of the photos of the beautiful Halong Bay.
Don't forget about my blog. I am back and will be regularly posting again for some months before we take another trip. It's good to be home.