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When you visit a city on a return visit, or after several return visits, you are free of the pressure to cross off site-seeing lists, making return visits almost always more rewarding because you can finally ease into a place and let the day take you where it wills without maps or guide books. Sometimes, however, the will of the day takes you where you are not eager to go, but definitely need to be.

On a (return) visit this past week to NYC, one of my days willed me to two gaping holes in the earth where two towers once stood that years ago had afforded me impressive views of the city. This time, however, instead of cruising in an elevator hundreds of storeys skyward, I descended into the depths of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Steel beams displayed at the September 11 Memorial Museum

Steel beams displayed at the National September 11 Museum

Words are insufficient to describe what it is like to stand dwarfed next to naked steel beams once an integral part of a skeleton great enough to extend the whole way up to the “Windows of the World” and to be overwhelmed by the fragility of life reflecting in the smiling faces of portrait upon portrait of those who didn’t manage to make it home the evening of September 11. Volunteers in blue vests stand discreetly next to exhibits and politely answer questions as you navigate in stunned silence through bare concrete halls displaying poignant reminders of a day forever etched in all of our memories.

Having studied in DC and often visited the museums and memorials there that are free, I was struck, even before entering the National September 11 Memorial Museum, by the steep entrance ticket price of 24 USD per adult and 18 USD per student. If the funds were going to the families of victims and first responders, the fee seemed a small price to pay. But if not….

It just seems wrong that any company or individuals should make any profit from anything related to 9/11 or any such tragedy for that matter. Neither of the two volunteers I asked were able to say for sure where the money for the tickets went. Since then I’ve looked online. I was surprised to discover that according to Wikipedia’s National September 11 Memorial Museum page, the museum is not administered by the National Park Service like the Flight 93 National Memorial but rather a non-profit corporation?! After trying to figure it all out, I still don’t really get it. How much more costly can this museum be than all the museums in Washington DC that are free? I also don’t quite understand who owns the September 11 Museum, who runs the museum, the logic of a non-profit corporation as opposed to a national park service and where all the funding goes and for what but it would seem to me if the museum is a public museum, funded by public funds and sincere in its mission statement, any and all balance sheets related to the administration of the museum as well as meeting minutes, etc, should be publicly available online directly from the museum website at the click of a mouse button. Sadly, it didn’t seem from what I could find that steep ticket costs were being used for the health and well-being of any of the families at all but I could be wrong. I definitely hope that I’m wrong.

September 11 Memorial Museum

September 11 Memorial Museum

When you visit NY, you immediately recognize that there is no place in the world with as much pulse, edge and grit as NYC. There just isn’t. At the same time, beneath all the chaos, glitz, glamour and lights, you have what really makes the city great – the New Yorkers themselves – the brash, no-nonsense, genuine New Yorker who didn’t hesitate that morning on 9/11 to rush down to the eye of the hurricane and sacrifice his/her life to help another or spend weeks in the ruble searching debris and now dedicates retirement days to discreetly standing next to exhibits patiently answering visitor questions.

Lots of my fellow Americans – particularly those of us who grew up more in the burbs and countryside like I did, often don’t get the gushing, outpouring of enthusiasm for New York that many Europeans seem automatically prone to. But I do. I get it. And it has nothing to do with the neon lights so bright on Broadway.



Because in the book of life, everyone should have a chapter about Paris. – KC Blau

There’s a lot you can do in two hours time. If you’re adventurous and bad at planning and expecting guests for dinner, you can attempt the 2-hour turkey cooking recipe. If you’re bored and your electricity is down you have to entertain a bunch of friends, you can suffer through 2 hours of monopoly together. If you were an average employee with an average work day back in 2007, you wasted an average of two hours a work day every day. If you live in Chapel Hill, it will take you about two hours to hit the waves (unless it’s hurricane season and they come to you). And if you’re a good date, you can spend 2-hours of quality time with that special someone experiencing the new Star Wars film in 3D. And if you live in Vienna? You can fly to Paris.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris – final resting place of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Modigliani, Proust, Rossini, Moliere, Edith Piaf and Getrude Stein.

Which is what I did this past week. Which is why I didn’t blog. Forgive me because I’m not sorry. Passé, perhaps, but I love Paris.

Clock at the Museum d'Orsay on the Impressionists floor overlooking Sacre Couer

Clock at the Museum d’Orsay on the Impressionists floor overlooking the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur

In Paris, with over 300 types of cheese to choose from, you have to leave off most of the endings of words, just to give yourself enough time to have a bite or two. And you find yourself forced to slaughter a language that when spoken by a native French person, sounds so seductive that even the subway guy announcing the metro stops makes you loosen the top button of your blouse. Nothing in Paris is in English and no one ever seems to know any despite the songs and films from – gasp! – America. But Pierre knows he’s strict and after letting you flounder a bit, when your Parlez-vous’ start to provoke some Parlez-Please-don’ts, Pierre and his Parisian friends will indeed toss their sweet boorish foreigner a life preserver with a sudden epiphany that, oh yes, well maybe they do indeed perhaps understand and speak a little — well some — English after all. A Parisian miracle.

Christmas exhibit in the Notre Dame

Christmas exhibit in the Notre Dame

Ahh Paris, the City of Light. Every museum holds a masterpiece, every masterpiece a deep underlying symbol, every guy a fashionable scarf, every girl a colored brassiere, every street corner a cafe, every cafe eclairs, and the Eiffel Tower always keeps a gentle watch over her cultivated flock.  Visiting Paris from Vienna is like a whirlwind tour with the crazy friend who makes you dance, laugh, eat, drink, spend more money than you intended, and then eat, drink and spend more than you should. When you finally wave a remorseful au revoir, you drop into your cattle class 5B contraption called a seat and before the stewardess can tell you to turn off your electronic devices and the guy in 5C can give her an I-dare-you-to-say-something stare as he inserts his earbuds, you instantly fall into a 2-hour recovery coma. Paris…

KC Blau in Paris

Me in Paris but from another trip – the book of life is big enough for many Paris chapters

Because in the book of life, everyone should have a chapter about Paris.

Some interesting literature:

Mentioned in this blog: Average Work Day Wasted Hours

The book I picked up in the apartment where I stayed and couldn’t put back down again: Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The movie I downloaded from i-Tunes and watched while in Paris: Paris, Je T’aime

The song that always makes me think of Paris: “Comptine d´un autre été: l´après midi” Yann Tiersen




That time of year again… I passed the Krampus test. How about you?

Schloss Neugebäude in Vienna and the Krampusse were once again on the loose. Would have enjoyed seeing all the boys aged 5 – 13 who had elbowed their ways to the front of the crowds, rush to duck behind their Dads when the beasts came galloping out, gnashing their fangs, rustling their chains, chiming their cow bells, and then charging straight for those rascals. Yep, quite a scene. Or it would have been, had I not been plagued myself with a miniscule tinge of concern that those Krampusse might do some sloppy detective work or someone could have slipped them some false intel and they could have accidentally mistaken me for someone who had misbehaved this year. Fortunately, the Katscher Krampusse filled their baskets with folks obviously much naughtier than me and I could duck off into the 73A at the end of the evening and bring some scenes fresh from the castle straight to your home or workplace or man cave, far away and safe from those hunting, hungry demons. Then again, they travel fast and you might be in a completely different time zone, so best stay alert, tune an ear for the cling of cow bells, and clang of chains and random grunts and your nose sensitized to goat odors. And if they come? Be sure to take a selfie and post. And keep your GPS on your phone switched on. The NSA, Facebook, LinkedIn or the online Christmas vendors are bound to find you eventually – and start posting you ads for goat food, ear plugs, chain cutters and a nice vacation away from the cave.

Need more Krampus facts? Check out these posts:

Krampus is Coming to Get You (+ Bonus Krampus 101 List)

18 Telltale Signs Your Guy’s Really a Krampus

How Much More Austrian Do You Want – Christoph Waltz explains Krampus







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Vienna gets lots of visitors in December and that’s not too surprising because the city is beautiful this time of year. Here’s the top 10 things you’ll want to do and see while here in December to get the most of your visit.

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    1. Visit a Christmas Market. With over 20 markets to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Here’s a list of Vienna Christmas markets from my 2014 post with links. Note that the special events have probably changed but otherwise the markets and descriptions usually stay pretty consistent year for year.
    2. Indulge in some Glühwein while at that market. For your own Glühwein recipe – check out my “How to make Glühwein” post.

      Gluehwein at Schönnbrunn Castle Christmas Market - photo courtesy of M. Gardzina

      Gluehwein at Schönnbrunn Castle Christmas Market – photo courtesy of M. Gardzina

    3. Have lunch at Cafe Central – they have what’s called a “Menü” option on the weekdays and it is usually a soup and a main meal consisting of a meat or non-meat dish and rather reasonably priced. Be sure to make reservations or you might have to wait for a table or not get one at all. You can write to them for reservations at the email address on the Cafe Central website but reservations are only valid if you receive a confirmation email (usually pretty quick response time).
    4. See the mosaic of the Last Supper. Do this after your visit to Cafe Central, since the Minoritenkirche with the mosaic is a two minute walk up the road from the Cafe.  More about this amazing piece of art work in my post: “Napoleon, Jesus and the Free Masons: the Last Supper in Vienna.”
    5. Have an authentic Austrian dinner in one of Vienna’s oldest restaurants – the Griechenbeisl. Again, reservations are a necessity. Check out my post about the Greichenbeisl restaurant entitled, “If the Walls Could Speak – A Schnitzel with Turkish Invaders, Beethoven, Twain and Johnny Cash.”

      Fancy Schmancy Aida Krapfen

      Fancy Schmancy Aida Krapfen

    6. Try a Krapfen. Don’t know what that is? Kind of like a apricot jam filled doughnut – more on the subject here: “Krapfen – Getting Fat in Honor of Fat Tuesday.”
    7. Definitely, definitely, visit a Coffeehouse to catch your breath, read a newspaper, discuss the world, and maybe even have some coffee. These two posts should help you with that: This one has a list of choice coffeehouses: “Vienna and her Coffeehouses – Sit Back and Smell the Coffee,” and this one describes a bit of the coffeehouse culture: “Place to Visit in Vienna – Coffeehouses.”
    8.  Digest some art and see some museums. Check out my post “Things to See in Vienna – Art Museums and Street Art.”

      Entrance to the Griechenbeisl

      Entrance to the Griechenbeisl

    9. Visit the Austrian National Treasury and check out some amazing artifacts like the legendary holy lance/ Spear of Destiny. More about that on my post:”The Holy Lance (“Spear of Destiny”) & the Power to Rule the World.”
    10. Take a stroll through the park of the Schönbrunn Castle and be sure to hike the hill behind the castle up to the gorgeous Gloriette where you can have a hot cocoa and if you’re timing is right, listen to some live piano music.
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