Nature has no bad weather. It does what it does without regard to human wishes and aspirations. Spring is the most beautiful season (for me), when everything wakes up after winter. All the trees go into blossom, there’s green grass and flowers everywhere, and at last we can take off the bulky clothes and warm shoes to walk around enjoying the sights. I saw lots of pretty flower beds all around town and decided to take some pictures next day. It was very sunny, with the afternoon temperature rising to 25C. It definitely felt like summer. Next morning, I woke up, looked outside and gasped. I mean, who would expect to see a huge snowfall in May?! All the trees with their tiny new leaves and lovely blossoms were totally covered with snow; I could not even see the ground let alone the new grass. What might happen to all the flowers in this blizzard? I went to explore today. Well, the tulips mostly survived; the daffodils are all bent down low or simply broken; some dandelions peek out from under the grass; amazingly the new just opened clusters and bunches of flowers are still here; and the green grass triumphantly covers the ground. A nice flowerbed nearby is partly ruined but there are enough flowers and grasses to give one hope. When I checked my photos at home I saw the a large cat walked into my shot, like a veritable photo-bomber. It was a one-day occurrence. Hopefully Nature will go on bringing us warmth and joy.

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Once I emerged from St. Michel – Notre-Dame RER station, I took a few steps, saw all the familiar landmarks and immediately felt at home – at ease. Paris is beautiful in all seasons; in May it is in bloom too. White, yellow, pink and red chestnut trees are covered with lovely candle-like blossoms, you can see them everywhere, near the celebrated cathedral, behind the Louvre in Tuillleries Gardens, on street corners and in various parks and gardens. There are magnificent and modest flower-beds with all manner of flowers, wonderful multi-colored displays at every Florist’s. Along the boulevards, past those numerous churches, monuments from various epochs and historic imposing buildings, through the throngs of tourists, on to Rue De Rivoli. This time I had a concrete purpose in mind which I successfully accomplished, to wit, I bought the new book by my favorite author and some souvenirs. What does one do then? Why, just stroll along looking around. The infamous Conciergerie, the former prison which stands on the Seine River embankment; St. Chapelle, the chapel with its never-ending line of tourists who wish to study the interiors; and whatever else attracts your eye. Just stare J After three hours of busy energetic walking I felt the need to leave my juices somewhere, so I marched to the well-known spot at Tuilleries Gardens. Having paid 80 cents, I stood in line to the ladies room and observed the same phenomenon: no matter which age and race the next woman in line was, she would step ahead, then recoil, then move forward cautiously. I was forewarned but still it took some willpower when my turn came: it turned out that there were two Muslim men sort of working there, half-heartedly waving their arms to direct the women to the booths. That was a big change from last year. Yes, I felt very uncomfortable; still, I paid my money. During my next walk I decided to find the unplottable spot at Luxembourg Gardens, a feat which I never managed to accomplish last year. I walked as per the arrow sign, past the Pavilion, on to the Senate building, the Medici Fountain… Nada, zilch, nothing. I retraced my steps, walked around the Pavilion and found it! I cautiously peaked inside. Ach joy! A young Muslim woman with a huge black eye and a scared expression on her face was sitting by the entrance, with the sign which said 50 cents. No other staff was needed inside.

The flower-beds, the statues, the fountains, the pond, they are all there, all very beautiful. I was glad to see plenty of people around, some busily running along, some strolling around snapping pictures. Hopefully nothing can change this amazing city. No matter how many times I walk along the same streets and look at the same places, they all make my heart soar.

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Tulip Inn at Massy-Palaiseau, France is a very nice residence hotel. It is easy to reach from Charles De Gaulle airport by RER B train, just be sure to check that the train goes in the right direction. The same train will take you to the city center. You may either buy single tickets or if you are staying for a week, buy Navigo transportation pass. It works Monday through Sunday for all kinds of transport including your return ride to the airport. It is also long-term, save it for your future travels. You can add money to it whenever you find yourself back in Paris again!

The hotel is five minutes walk away from the station. If you are traveling with luggage be sure to take the lift once you get out of the train. Look to your left and you will see a charming house with a turret. Follow the road past some very pretty houses and you will see the hotel right in front of you. I think they don’t do themselves justice: the picture on <> shows the building standing sort of nowhere. It is actually at the end of a street. I took several pictures along the route to memorize the few turns, and snapped some views from the apartment window. The apartments have a built-in kitchenette with hot plates and microwave; there are enough kitchen utensils, plates, cups and cutlery. If you take a larger apartment you will have the advantage of being able to go out the bedroom into the small separate kitchenette and have your morning coffee in peace while the family sleeps. Beds are large and comfortable. The bathroom is well-equipped; you may need to ask for an extra towel as they only offer the large ones and you don’t want to dry your face with the same one you use for your body. Anything you need may be found at Reception desk. Rooms are cleaned daily. The hotel serves breakfast for 10 euros per head. However you may prefer to cook your own meals. If you go back to the station, cross the tiny bridge and look for Rue de Paris, you will find a large food supermarket which is open daily 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., weekends and holidays included. There is a large Boulangerie (bakery) directly opposite which is open on weekends but closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The locals obviously know the schedule well: we saw people stocking up on baked goods, carrying half a dozen long baguettes to their cars.

Last but not least, booking an apartment at Palaiseau is cheaper than booking a tiny hotel room in the center of Paris.

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When in Vienna, prepare yourself for huge daily doses of Beauty. Every building seems to have columns, ornaments, statues and various decorations. There are innumerable Titans and Caryatides (who were like female Titans) holding up the balconies and entrances. The female faces, in spite of the constant heavy lifting, are lovely. Walk inside any church, look at the dome, to Oculus, the murals and paintings, the winding staircases and stained glass windows, the organ and the altar. In the city park, Stadtpark, one can see the charming Kursalon building which houses a great concert hall and a very good restaurant. In front of it is a flowerbed clock. Behind the famous Karlskirche with its distinctive two tall columns on the sides, the French embassy is housed in an imposing large building. Many other embassies and businesses can be found in the area, each of them boasting a lovely location. Raise your eyes, and you will notice some statues soaring in front of a building, or a busy chimneysweep ready to step ahead onto his new task. Many historical places have plaques and signs which tell a tourist what it is they see and give a brief history of the area or a concrete house. There is clearly a method to this madness, one does not get lost or overwhelmed. Wherever you look, you see that inimitable phenomenon: a thing of Beauty is a joy forever.

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Easter is coming soon, on April 16. Long before that, every shop window, every pharmacy, every supermarket are decorated with rabbits, multi-colored eggs, chickens, and of course flowers. Eggs are scattered around, and rabbits peak from among men’s shirts and women’s clothes, children’s toys and shoes, medicines and cosmetics. There are also all the traditional angels and decorations which create a festive atmosphere a few weeks ahead of the holiday.

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Hotel Royal, Vienna

Hotel Royal, Vienna.
Vienna, Austrian name Wien, is a lovely city with lots of beautiful buildings, churches and monuments, shopping streets and restaurants, and of course hotels. Finding a place to stay may be difficult only if everything is fully booked, and if you have a certain set of requirements in mind. For our week’s stay, I was looking for a place which would have AC, safety deposit box, free wi-fi and breakfast included. Preferably we wanted a place which was close to the main attractions. Vienna is the city which immediately brings to mind Mozart, one can hear his music and see his face everywhere. As if one celebrated musician were not enough for one town, Vienna is also renowned for the immortal music of Johann Strauss. No, even those two great musicians, the ever young extremely prolific genius and the King of Waltz, are not enough. Empress Elizabeth, affectionately called Sisi, her virtual cult of beauty, her amazing floor-length hair and her tragic death are also part of the eternal legends interwoven into the city history.
Hotel Royal is literally a few steps away from Stephasdom, St. Stephen’s cathedral. If you turn left, not right when you exit, you will see one of the city’s Mozart houses! The very place where concerts are regularly held. Hotel Royal is one of the four Kremslehner family run hotels in Vienna. It has all the modern conveniences and facilities in addition to the original decor; once I saw those mirrors I was sold. Breakfast is very substantial, there is something for all tastes. They make very good coffee on request too. The staff are friendly and they speak English. The rooms are spacious and clean. Billa supermarket is right across the street, it has a wide selection of foods and a great freshly made hot meals counter. If you wish a larger choice, turn right as you exit the hotel. Then left to Kaertner Strasse, one of the main shopping streets. A few steps away you will see the big sign PAUL above the street. No, it is not the well- known international bakery but a Menswear store. You don’t need it anyway, just turn right before it and you find another Billa store. That one is huge, with a glass lift inside. They have a really large hot foods counter, plus salads, soups and an enormous selection of foods. We were a bit tired when we first arrived and did not feel like looking for a restaurant, so we bought half a hot grilled chicken for €2.50, some fresh salad and breads and had an enjoyable meal in our room. Every hotel room has a minibar which simply means that there is a fridge, so storing a pack of cheese and ham overnight is not a problem. You may get a city map at reception, choose the places of interest you wish to see, check the distance and have a nice daily walk. Stadtpark, city park is five minutes walk away along Singerstrasse, just turn left when you go out and follow the road. Marriott hotel is right across the road from the park, it is an attractive modern building. The imposing palace behind it is actually a residence hotel. That’s the thing about Vienna, there are so many palaces and residences, one has trouble distinguishing between historical buildings, museums, embassies and houses.
Hotel Royal has a large sign over its entrance which is easily seen from any direction.

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Vienna the Beautiful.
Wien is the Austrian name for Vienna, the capital of Austria. Ever since I briefly visited it a few years ago I wanted to come here with my one and only love, to stroll around its streets, to listen to the all-pervading music, and to have my eyeful of Beauty. And now my dream came true. We get out in the morning and walk leisurely at random, looking at the lovely buildings, taking pictures, stopping whenever our fancy dictates. The huge St. Stephen’s cathedral and Stephansplatz are a few steps away from our hotel, the main reason why I chose this place to stay. Literally a minute brings us to the confluence of Kaertner Strasse and Graben, both famous pedestrian streets with plenty of shops, cafés and souvenir stalls, not to mention numerous sausage vendors, flower markets and little ice cream cars. Every building, every house is a revelation. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. The Hofburg Palace is one of the great number of palaces which seem to constitute half of this wonderful city. It is huge, with lots of wings, courtyards, statues, ornaments. This is where the empress Elizabeth known as Sissi lived. Her portraits, with the famous luxuriant hair, are seen everywhere. Her tragic fate only adds to the myth.
In fact, Vienna is maybe the only European capital to boast so many decorations, gilded statues and murals, friezes and heaven knows what else everywhere. One can see the different epochs: the earlier houses are not so ornate as the later, mostly 19th century ones. The Viennese seemed to like the Greek style columns, those are seen around the Opera, the Parliament and many other structures. Here and there muscular marble titans hold balconies on their huge shoulders. Inside every church there are magnificent altars, frescoes and organs with lots of glittering covering. If you are so inclined you can of course diligently visit every castle, every museum and walk yourself to exhaustion trying to absorb all those millions of exhibits. Or you can stroll around and gradually acquire the general atmosphere, the ambience, the emotions. You can go to an official concert at any venue, or simply stop by at a church and listen to lovely organ music at set hours. In fact, it seems that there is music everywhere, it pervades the very air of this city where first Mozart, then Johann Strauss created magic.
Mozart’s face is to be seen all around the city. Many houses have memorial plaques. Literally next door to our hotel is the house where the composer stayed for a short period of time, and where his works are performed by a small group of musicians dressed up in the style of his era. The chamber sits less than 40 people, the performance is about an hour and a half. One can get a glass of Prosecco during intermission right there in the inner yard. If you wish to have a great musical experience you can splurge on a full-time concert at Kursalon in Stadtpark, the city Park through which the tiny Vienna River runs. One can book tickets for a concert including dinner; it is not cheap but it is certainly worth it, once. I have never heard such an amazing, skillful performance going straight to your heart and soul. The essence of Mozart and Strauss seemed to flow straight from the musical instruments. You can also walk around in e park, take pictures of many statues including the celebrated golden (gilded) one of Johann Strauss with his violin.
The numerous cafés, restaurants and of course conditorei are not cheap. If you are on a budget or don’t want to spend a lot of time sitting around, stop by at a Billa supermarket. All of them have very good freshly cooked foods counters, with hot and cold meats, poultry, salads, soups. Or you may prefer to buy some foods and have a good meal in your room in between walking tours. Every store also has a great selection of freshly baked breads and all the necessary foods. Nordsee chain sells what they call fish and chips. It’s really very well prepared succulent grilled salmon, lots of salads, and all kinds of potatoes, boiled, fried, hot and cold.
I have noticed some WC signs in passing while wandering around but didn’t pay much attention to them until I really needed one. Rather than trying to find something I stepped into a Pharmacy and discreetly asked a female clerk. She immediately pointed at the next-door large building. I dutifully went in, asked a busy-looking woman for help, and she simply took me to a very good clean facility inside.
Vienna is built in a very sensible understandable way, we hardly needed to consult a plan unless we wanted to find a specific place. We never once used any transport. The locals seem quite friendly. Almost everybody speaks at least some English.
The overall impression: pure magic.

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