Spring in Krakow

Pablo Neruda once said that “you can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming”. Today, March 5th, beginning of spring, my intention is not to cut flowers but to write about something nice. One thing that came to my mind was to mention the beautiful and interesting things I see in Krakow when running on the shores of Vistula. The order of images listed here was chosen to make the narrative easier.

Let’s start with the symbol of the city, the Wawel Dragon. These days many kids take pictures in front of the legendary mighty dragon. To make it look more real, the dragon spits fire every few minutes. A dragon guarding a castle is a fairytale image.

The Wawel Dragon

Guarded by the dragon is the famous Wawel Castle. The former residence of Polish Kings before 1596 when the capital moved to Warsaw. The big castle and cathedral form an architectural complex similar to the one in Prague. In fact, Prague is the city with the most similarities compared to Krakow. Probably it is because both cities were for many years under Habsburg Monarchy domination.

A wing of the Wawel Castle

From the castle, the running path follows the Vistula river until the foot of the hill that can be seen far away in this picture. There are a large park and a big forest. It is impressive to see a forest on a hill in a city. The highest peak that can be seen in the picture below is the Kościuszko Mound. That is a human-made mound to honor the memory of Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. As a fun fact, I remember in school learning at Geography that the highest peak in Australia is Mount Kosciuszko. At the time, I did not understand why. The internet was not available to search for the answer. I had to come to Krakow to find the answer. For the explorer who first climbed that mountain, it looked like the mound with the same name in Krakow.

The other way of the running path leads to the Kazimierz neighborhood. Far on the right side, you can see a wheel and a balloon.

The balloon and the Krakow’s Ferris Wheel. Unfortunately, the ballon was not flying when I took the picture. For me flying the ballon is not an option as I am afraid of heights.

Another nice bridge is Father Bernatek Footbridge adorned with sculptures. This bridge makes the connection with the Jewish neighborhood. Kazimierz is the bohemian part of the city, with a different atmosphere than in the city center. Under the bridge, a few ships were transformed into restaurants. Some ships make cruises on the Vistula river.

Bernatek Footbridge

As mentioned above, Krakow reminds me mostly of Prague. I couldn’t resist adding a picture of this modern art symbol from Krakow similar to the ones from Prague. It is always funny to admire such examples of modern art. A theory is that the pig, set in a position to be lit ablaze, signifies renewal. 

Running in a fairytale environment makes the experience more pleasant. Hoping that you enjoyed the pictures above, I wish you a great year ahead! Despite all the difficulties, life goes on!

Since all the pictures were near a river, I thought it appropriate to end with a song on a river

6700 km – Running in Krakow

Last summer, I decided to resume my professional career in Krakow. Living alone in a city where I knew no one was not easy but not that hard as anticipated. The fact that the office is open, respecting anti-Covid norms, was very helpful. I could meet face to face many colleagues. The company assisted me with all the formalities needed to work from Poland.

My improvised office while working from home in Krakow

Running helped me a lot. I continued my training under indications from my coach, Stefan Oprina. In Krakow, I ran 540 km, three times per week, before I had to stop in December. The reason was that it was too cold outside. I had a sour throat after running while the outside temperature was under 0 Celsius. The gyms were closed due to Covid. My only option was to run at home with two dumbbells. I did that three times every week. I hope that I will be able to resume running outside starting from March. At the end of 2020, I still ran 1500 km in total.

Generally, I was running at a slower speed because the area for my training was where other people use to walk. In most cases, my runs were on the shores of Vistula. For example, in October, I ran a half marathon in two hours and thirteen minutes. Almost thirty minutes slower than the previous year. Still, running helps a lot both physical and mental health.

Last October. View from my window in Krakow center.

Krakow is the most popular tourist destination in Poland, with 14 million visitors in 2019. The city looks great, full of medieval buildings and the biggest old center in Europe. Most of the people speak English as they are used to interact with tourists. That is important for someone who doesn’t speak Polish. Coming here last July was a good thing. All the museums and restaurants were open. For example, visiting Shindler’s factory, I understood the plot from “Schindler’s List” movie. Laying on the hills the city has many spectacular landscapes. A must-see is the Wawel cathedral and castle, the residence of Polish kings before 1596. Then Warsaw became the capital of Poland.

View from Wieliczka Salt Mine

Close to the city, there are many other attractions, the Carpathian mountains with the famous resort Zakopane situated about 110 km to the south. There are hills, small towns, lakes, and nice sightseeings. Other cities in proximity are Katowice with wide-open spaces reminding of US cities, Częstochowa and Ostrava in Czechia.

View of Zakopane from surrounding mountains

Other positive things? The food tastes better and is cheaper than in Romania. Big malls and better roads.

What are the shortcomings? The winter is colder here than in Bucharest. Also, for me, the Polish language is hard to understand, but my colleagues are friendly.

Coming to Krakow was a great decision. A great life experience so far. Maybe I will post later some tourist experiences around Krakow.

I had a dream in Washington D.C.

Two years ago, on a trip to East Coast, I visited Washington D.C. The US capital has many museums and plenty of tourist attractions. It is really an interesting city. It was the place in the US in which I learned most things.

Like all the visitors, I took a picture in front of the White House.

At that time, Donald Trump was the US President. The victory sign was my hope that one day this period of hate will end. That day has come. Donald Trump was not voted for a second term. Hence the timing for this post.

I did not resonate with the values promoted by Donald Trump. In my opinion, a country governed by fake news and lies goes in the wrong direction. Lying is a norm in day to day life in a dictatorship, but not in a democracy. I know that because I lived in Romania before 1989.

A day after the picture in front of the White House, still in Washington, I witnessed a scene that impressed me.

In Washington D.C. there are many memorial monuments. Including the famous Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial. One of these memorial monuments is Martin Luther King jr. Memorial.

Next to Martin Luther King’s memorial, I saw an old man together with his family, children, and nephews. The old man was in a state of deep emotion. He was trying to convey his feelings to his family. I saw gratitude in that man’s looks towards Martin Luther King’s statue. His family moved on from the memorial. He remained for a while next to the monument. It was then I took the picture below.

The monument, inaugurated in 2011, is inspired by the line  “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”. From the memorable discourse, “I have a dream”.

“I have a dream” is maybe the most famous speech in US History. Martin Luther King had that speech during the March to Washington in August 1963.

At the time the man in the picture above was grieving next to the monument, Martin Luther King was gone from this world for fifty years. Yet, people are still honoring his memory.

Seneca once said that gratitude ages very fast. We rarely see this feeling expressed in the modern world.

The United States owe to Martin Luther King the fact that they are not a segregated nation. He paid that price with his life.

That scene in Washington D.C. made me think about the fact that for politicians, the test of time is the most important. If people will honor a politician’s memory years after they depart from this world, it means the politician fulfilled his or her mission. For those aiming for a political career, this should be the ultimate goal.

My political dream is for responsible leaders. Leaders who will think beyond themselves, their relatives, and friends in the first place. I hope that the human race will finally move over this form of tribal leadership.

The speech “I have a dream” was not prepared. It was improvised by Martin Luther King when Mahalia Jackson shouted to him “Tell them about the dream”.

My favorite paintings

During times like this, when most of the museums around the world are closed I thought to post something about my art-related experiences. I will mention here only paintings that I admired from close distance in museums or expositions around the world. Of course, there are many others I wish to see. Hopefully, I will have that chance someday. I was lucky to see many of the most important galleries in Europe and the United States and I have a collection of memories from those visits.

I will start with a disclaimer. There is a big difference between admiring a painting at a close distance in a museum and looking at its picture on the internet. The pictures listed below do not impress me and I do not expect to inspire my readers. Seeing them in a museum it’s a different experience. But this is all we can do these days.

This is a subjective selection and it is for sure influenced by my life experiences. Here are the paintings listed in chronological order:

Leonardo – Annunciation (1472) Uffizi, Florence

While visiting Uffizi in Florence I’ve seen many annunciation paintings, as religion was the main theme for painters until the 17th century. Yet, when I saw this painting I was intrigued. It seems to have so many senses and symbols hidden. The characters are surrounded by mystery, it was just different from all I’ve seen before. Maybe I was impressed because it was the first time in my life when I was seeing a major artwork.

Leonardo – Annunciation 1472 Uffizi, Florence

Raphael – Portrait of Pope Julius II (1511) National Gallery, London

This painting impressed me most of all I’ve seen at the National Gallery in London. I didn’t know about this artwork before seeing it. I watched it amazed for several minutes.

I did not have the sensation that it was made to look better than in reality. Yet, it was a different reality which I can’t express in words. The artist captures so well the feelings of the character in the painting.

After watching this painting I understood the sense of words written on Raphael’s epitaph:
“Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.”

For reference, Pope Julius II is the one who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. The Pope died in 1513 after he was able to see the Sistine Chapel painted. Interestingly is that before that he was also leading his armies on the battlefield as their commander. He believed in imposing religion by the sword, which was common during his time. If you want to find out more about him you can read “Agony and Ecstasy” by Irving Stone or simply watch the movie.

Raphael – Portrait of Pope Julius II, 1511 National Gallery, London

El Greco -View of Toledo (1596) MET, New York

The contrast of colors in this painting is fascinating. Another example of a painting I did not know and discovered in a gallery. El Greco paints here Toledo, the city where he spent most of his life and where he also died. This is not the only El Greco painting that I like, he was an artist well ahead of his time. The way he uses the colors and his characters (in other paintings) are very modern. Because of his modernism, people in the 17th and 18th centuries did not appreciate his works. He was misunderstood, as it was the case with other artists that had a vision beyond the horizon of his times.

El Greco -View of Toledo (1596) MET, New York

Rubens – Old Woman and Boy with Candles (1616) Mauritshuis – Hague

I’ve discovered this painting in the Hague gallery. I am not a big fan of Rubens. I’ve seen many of his paintings around the world. Rubens created the biggest paintings in terms of size in museums. And the characters in his paintings were also big.

However, this is a small painting where he paints using the “chiaroscuro” technique he learned from Caravaggio.

I was attracted by how this painting looks but mainly because it is an allegory that can be interpreted in many ways. This way it’s like life itself.

One possible interpretation is a quote from Rubens: “Light can be taken a thousand times from another light without diminishing it”. In the museum it was written the local interpretation: “The renewal of life with the transfer of light from the candle, soon to die, held by the old woman to the freshly lit one held by the youth.” Then there was the religious interpretation of three hands with a light in the center. Each reader could have his/her own vision of this painting and that’s the beauty of it.

Probably, Rubens himself liked this picture as he kept it with him until the end of his life.

Rubens – Old Woman and Boy with Candles (1616) Mauritshuis – Hague

Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) Mauritshuis -Hague

This was the main attraction in Hague. At the time I’ve seen this painting it was accepted the theory that the girl with a pearl earring did not exist in reality. It was believed that she was created by the imagination of Vermeer.

I did not believe that theory but that was just my intuition.

Later, in 2018, a new study of the painting was done with X-Rays and other methods. This year, in April, they published the conclusions. The examination had revealed the presence of tiny eyelashes around the girl’s eyes, invisible to the naked eye. Research also established the existence of a green curtain in the seemingly empty background of the painting that has faded to black over the centuries. 

These are indications that the girl was real.

“Speculating on who the girl was, with her enigmatic expression, wide eyes, unusual blue turban, and huge pearl earring remains part of the fun. The fact that she is still a mystery keeps people coming back and keeps her exciting and fresh.” -The Guardian

In my opinion, this is the last classical masterpiece. It took another 200 years for the art of painting to reinvent and by the creation of impressionism to add new amazing artworks.

Vermeer himself was considered a second class artist during his life and was forgotten after his time. He was rediscovered almost 200 years later.

Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) Mauritshuis -Hague

Van Gogh – Starry Night (1889) MoMA -New York

The most beautiful association between blue and yellow. This painting is one of the most famous in the world. The painting is often associated with the words of Vincent van Gogh: “Why, I wonder, wouldn’t the shining dots in the sky be as easy to reach as the black dots on the map of France? Just like we were on the train to Tarascon or Rouen, we use death to travel to the stars. “

The painting depicts the city of Saint-Remy-de-Provence where Van Gogh was interred in a hospital after his breakdown in 1888 when he cut his ear.

Van Gogh – Starry Night (1889) MoMA -New York

Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890) Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam

Some consider this as Van Gogh’s last painting. I remember it was nicely presented in the museum. Since it was a museum dedicated to Van Gogh it was a perfect way to finish the exposition. The wheat field is located in Auvers-sur-Oise and it was painted in July 1890.

“Wheat Field with Crows remains as Vincent van Gogh’s most contentious painting. The many interpretations of the work are probably more varied than any other in Van Gogh’s oeuvre. Some see it as Van Gogh’s “suicide note” put to canvas, while others delve beyond a superficial overview of the subject matter and favor a more positive approach. And some more extreme critics cast their vision even further – beyond the canvas and the brushstrokes – in order to translate the images into an entirely new language of the subliminal.”- http://www.vincentvangogh.org

“Van Gogh used powerful color combinations in this painting: the blue sky contrasts with the yellow-orange wheat, while the red of the path is intensified by the green bands of grass.” – Van Gogh Museum

The artist shot himself in this wheat field and died the next day in a hospital. His paintings remained to inspire the world for the future.

Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890) Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam

Magritte – The Lovers II (1928) MoMA -New York

I’ve seen many Magritte paintings in Brussels. In that city exists even an entire museum dedicated to Magritte’s works. There I discovered an interesting artist and found out more about him. Yet, the painting I like most from his creations was in New York.

“Frustrated desires are a common theme in René Magritte’s work. Here, a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Some have interpreted this work as a depiction of the inability to fully unveil the true nature of even our most intimate companions.” – MoMA

“René Magritte lovers are unable to communicate or touch, they are forever apart.” – http://www.dailyartmagazine.com

The painting is intriguing and has many hidden symbols and possible interpretations.

Magritte – The Lovers II (1928) MoMA -New York

Dali – The Persistence of Memory (1931) MoMA -New York

Surrealism at its peak by Dali. This painting is at MoMA since 1934.

The general interpretation of the work is that the soft watches are a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid. This idea is supported by other images in the work, such as the wide expanding landscape, and other limp watches shown being devoured by ants.

“Three of the clocks in the painting may symbolize the past, present and future, which are all subjective and open to interpretation, while the fourth clock, which lies face-down and undistorted, may symbolize objective time.” – http://www.dalipaintings.com

“Those limp watches are as soft as overripe cheese—indeed, they picture “the camembert of time,” in Dalí’s phrase. Here time must lose all meaning. Permanence goes with it: ants, a common theme in Dalí’s work, represent decay, particularly when they attack a gold watch, and they seem grotesquely organic. The monstrous fleshy creature draped across the painting’s center is at once alien and familiar: an approximation of Dalí’s own face in profile, its long eyelashes seem disturbingly insect-like or even sexual, as does what may or may not be a tongue oozing from its nose like a fat snail.” -MoMA

Dali – The Persistence of Memory (1931) MoMA -New York

Playing chess in Arad

Arad chess open is the most important chess tournament in Romania. This year it was it’s twelfth edition. The tournament was very well organized with players coming from all over the world. The venue for the tournament was the Continental Forum Hotel.

International chess festival – July 24-31- Arad

I took a few pictures from the organizer’s site to illustrate my experience within the tournament. I started the tournament with two loses then I was able to focus better and bounced back with four wins in five games.

At the chessboard during the 4th round

An interesting moment happened in round 7 when my opponent sacrificed two pawns in the opening in order to develop his pieces and tried to capture my queen.

The critical moment in round 7. I took two white pawns which can be seen above this text, but I realized that it was a trap. I spent 30 minutes in that position to understand all the complications and found a good move. I won the game in the end.

The most important game came in round 8th. I played a junior girl rated 150 points above me who had a great tournament. It was a very sharp game with chances on both sides.

I played a sharp English attack against Najdorf defense in round 8th.

The position below was the decisive moment of the game.

She played the black queen to h2 threatening both to checkmate the white king by playing queen takes c2 or to capture the bishop on h3. At first glance in the above diagram, it looks like white is lost. But in reality in this position, it is black who is lost and that is the beauty of chess. White responds with rook from d4 to d2 and stops the checkmate threat. Then the black queen captures the white bishop on h3 and white plays rook to h1 and the black queen is lost as it has nowhere safe to go. White would win the game. Also, instead of playing rook to h1 white has an even more powerful response, he can move the queen to e3, but that move is hard to see by humans. Stockfish 10, a powerful chess engine found that move in a few seconds.

I failed in finding this good defense and took the black knight on a3 instead, then she took my knight on c3 with the rook from c8 and resulted in a position lost for white. I resigned the game a few moves later.

After that game, I lost my focus and did a draw in the last round and ended the tournament with 4.5 points from 9 games.

I have played more than 400 moves in all the games in Arad but the move in the position above made the difference between a good and a bad tournament. This was a perfect example for the quote from Keres mentioned in a previous post: “in every position, there is a move to be found – but you have to search for it!“ Also my opponent deserves congratulations for courage to play a risky move that won the game. As they said: “Audaces fortuna juvat” ( “Fortune favors the bold”).

My participation in the Arad open was a great experience overall. I learned many things and I had the chance to visit Arad and Timisoara for the first time.

Running in Potsdam

During the first weekend of June, I was in Potsdam with Bobo, a friend, running at the 16th edition of ProPotsdam Schloesserlauf. It was a perfect time for a short visit to Berlin and Potsdam before the race.

In front of Brandenburg Gate
With Marx and Engels
Television tower in Alexanderplatz
View of Berlin from the television tower
Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam
Charlottenhof Palace in Potsdam
View of Charlottenhof garden on a summer evening

As for the race itself, there were two options, either 10km or half-marathon (21.1 km). Usually, I run half-marathons but this time we had two busy days in Berlin before the race and a returning flight soon after the course so I chose to run 10 km. It was a wise decision as June 2nd was a hot day in Potsdam and the race included a somehow steep climb near the Sanssouci Palace.

My objective was to finish the 10 kilometers race in less than 50 minutes. Unfortunately, I missed this goal by 30 seconds as my official time was 50 minutes and 29 seconds. Nevertheless, the whole trip was a cool experience and I am very happy I ran there.

With Bobo after the race

The race itself was very well organized. The sightseeing was beautiful as we ran around the Potsdam castles. My only suggestion for the organizer would be to group the participants at the start according to their expected finish time. For me, it was very hard to advance during the first kilometer because it was very crowded in front of me. Because of that, I ran the first kilometer in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I kept my energy and accelerated during the last kilometer in 4:39. I had a chance to finish under 50 minutes if I would start sprinting one kilometer earlier.

There were 1477 runners who finished the 10-kilometer race. Of these, 772 were women and 705 men. It was the first time I run a race of such size where the majority of runners are women. It is great to see so many women running long distance races as this has a positive impact on health. My rank was 182 from 1477 finishers in the general standings and 21 in my age category.

I noticed in both 10 km and 21.1 km competitions almost all the participants finished their race. I think it is a cultural thing in Germany to achieve your commitment.

It’s a race…not a riot

Those castles had been built a few hundred years ago by the rulers of Prussia. At that time the only reason for thousands of common people running around the castles would be a riot. Fortunately, society evolved and continues to do so. These days so many people choose to exercise as it improves their health and life.

Karlsruhe

The modern city of Karlsruhe was founded in 1715 by Margrave Charles William and it translates to “Charles retreat”. The legend is that he build his new palace to find peace from his wife.

Karlsruhe Palace

Although I stayed for a week in Karlsruhe I only had time to visit the city between the chess tournament rounds.

View of Karlsruhe Zoo from the playing hall (Schwarzwaldhalle part of Kongresszentrum)

There is a big Zoo in Karlsruhe, next to the Congress center. It is particularly interesting for kids. They even have a polar bear and many exotic animals. You can interact with birds and some small monkeys. There is a cave full of bats where you can enter if you don’t mind leaving with a bat in your hair. One morning I won a game quickly and I spent a couple of hours walking in the Zoo garden.

Karlsruhe Zoo garden

In Karlsruhe there is a big gallery of paintings the State Art Gallery. Among the famous paintings displayed here are a nice Rembrandt self-portrait and some paintings by French impressionists as Monet, Cezanne, Degas, and Pissarro. The modern art gallery is located in the Orangery building near the main gallery.

I liked a painting by the expressionist painter Karl Hofer called “Self Portrait with Demons” from 1923. It has an interesting history. The painting was acquired by the State Art Gallery in 1923 but was returned to the painter in 1936 in exchange for another painting. The reason for this exchange was that the Nazi considered the painting “degenerate”. In 2018 the painting was acquired again by State Gallery and was displayed in the exposition 95 years later.

Karl Hofer – Self Portrait with Demons

Another interesting painting was Otto Dix’s – “Seven Deadly Sins” created in 1933 when the author was fired from his teaching position at Dresden Academy. As in Karl Hofer’s case, his work was considered “degenerated” by the Nazi regime. This is an allegorical painting representing the political situation in Germany in 1933 when Hitler became chancellor. A funny observation is that Dix painted Hitler’s moustache only after the war as a precaution. Otto Dix’s paintings were influenced by the horrors he saw as a combatant in World War I.

Otto Dix – The Seven Deadly Sins

Before hosting the Modern Art Gallery, the Orangery building was part of the Botanical Garden. Here in the XVIII and XIX centuries, they used to bring exotic plants to keep them from freezing during the winter. Karlsruhe has a rather small Botanical Garden located near the Palace.

Karlsruhe Botanical Garden

I like the food in Germany and Karlsruhe made no exception. They have many traditional restaurants but also a large variety of international cuisine.

This happens when you don’t speak German and the waitress doesn’t speak English. I was expecting a pork fillet.

The last thing I visited in Karlsruhe was the palace where hopefully Karl found his “ruhe” (peace). The palace has a tower from where you can admire the entire city as in the picture below. In the palace, there is a kind of history museum similar to the History Museum in Berlin only smaller but still big enough for someone to spend three to four hours during a visit. For me, the experience was quite interesting and captivating. As a consequence, I almost lost the train to Frankfurt Airport that day. The museum is called Badisches Landesmuseum and as the name says has many items from local history but is not limited to that.

View of Karlsruhe city from the Palace Tower

For a tourist Karlsruhe is an ideal place to stay if you want to visit the region. From here you can quickly reach to Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Stuttgart, Strasbourg, Tubingen or Ulm.

Heidelberg

“One thinks Heidelberg by day—with its surroundings—is the last possibility of the beautiful; but when he sees Heidelberg by night, a fallen Milky Way, with that glittering railway constellation pinned to the border, he requires time to consider upon the verdict.” – Mark Twain

I liked very much Heidelberg, one of the most beautiful towns I’ve seen according to my standards. For my visit I took Mark Twain as my guide, all his quotes are from the book “A tramp abroad” published in 1880.

It was a great day of April when I took a morning train from Karlsruhe to Heidelberg. My journey began with a visit to the Heidelberg castle, now in ruins, the ideal romantic place.

“Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers—the Lear of inanimate nature—deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful.” -Mark Twain

In the castle there is the largest wine cask in the world, the Heidelberg Tun built in 1751 from the trunks of 130 oak trees and has a capacity of 219000 liters. It is 8.5 meters deep by 7 meters high. The balustraded platform on top was built as a dance floor. But my guide was not impressed…

Heidelberg Tun

“Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt. It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles, and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels. I think it likely that one of these statements is a mistake, and the other is a lie. However, the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me. I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense.” – Mark Twain

I continued my tour in the castle gardens, very appreciated at his time by Goethe who loved to walk here. The gardens looked indeed very nice in the spring.

I took the funicular on the way down to visit the town. Among touristic objectives, the protestant church had interesting stained glass windows. Quite different from all the churches I’ve seen before. On one of them, it was written E=mc2 and 6.8.1945 the day when a nuclear bomb was dropped over Hiroshima. There was something written in German, but I don’t understand the language.

Protestant church – Heidelberg

Maybe it’s about the dangers that science can bring to the world. I find appropriate a quote from the author of the famous equation, Albert Einstein: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

My next stop was at University Museum. Heidelberg University was founded in 1386 and it is the oldest in Germany. In its long history, the University had famous professors and students. Hegel, Jaspers, Bunsen, Helmholtz, and Kirchhoff were some notable professors from the past. The University is ranked 13 in the world on the number of Nobel prizes won by its scholars. The future looks bright for the students in Heidelberg as their institution is currently ranked 54 in the top of the best universities in the world. However, in the museum, I also saw a picture of Goebbels having a speech at the University. He also held a Ph.D. from Heidelberg University. I think that one should never forget the dark side of history and understand what was wrong then. The university campus located over Neckar looks very modern. It has a Botanical garden and many modern buildings. It reminded me of the MIT campus only that Heidelberg has more space and looks better.

Maybe the secret of such great research successes lies in the fact that there was a University jail. I’m joking. My guide from the past saw it when it was operational and not a museum as it is today, but his description is accurate for the present as well.

“The ceiling was completely covered with names, dates, and monograms, done with candle-smoke. The walls were thickly covered with pictures and portraits (in profile), some done with ink, some with soot, some with a pencil, and some with red, blue, and green chalks; and whenever an inch or two of space had remained between the pictures, the captives had written plaintive verses, or names and dates. I do not think I was ever in a more elaborately frescoed apartment.” – Mark Twain

One of the cells in the students jail
Angel in students jail in Heidelberg

It was time to pass on the other side of the Neckar river and walk on the famous path Philosopher’s Way. One should prepare for an abrupt 200 meters climb in order to reach the path.

Philosopher’s way can be seen from a distance on the hill over Neckar river

The path is in a middle of nature and professors and philosophers used to walk and discuss ideas. There are gardens with flowers and many trees. From the Philosopher’s Way there are nice views of the town.

From the Philosophers Way, I continued my visit next to the physics institute then all the way in the part of town that is over the Neckar river until I reached the University campus. This is where my trip ended. I took a train back to Karlsruhe as that night it was the opening of the chess tournament.

For Romanian history, Heidelberg is the place where Alexandru Ioan Cuza died in 1873. He was the first Domnitor ( Ruler) of Romania from 1859 to 1866 when he was forced to abdicate and leave the country. He came in Heidelberg with his two sons to enlist them at the University but died a few days after his arrival at Hotel Europa.

Over the years many poets and writers were inspired by Heidelberg. There is a play called “Old Heidelberg” written by Wilhelm Meyer-Förster in 1901. A prince, Karl Heinrich, is sent to study at Heidelberg University. He falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Käthie, but his father dies and he is called back home to rule his province. He returns to Heidelberg two years later to discover that most of the people he knew left and Käthie moved on with her life. Karl Heinrich left and decided never to return to Heidelberg.

It was a very successful play with at least five movies based upon this drama. The most notable is “The Student Prince” from 1954. The scene below is from that movie.

One can only imagine the success this song had in United States during prohibition…

Unlike Karl Heinrich I would gladly return to Heidelberg and maybe I will. I would love to see the “fallen Milky Way” that Twain wrote about.

Baden-Baden…

“…is so nice that you have to name it twice” Bill Clinton dixit.
The town name was Baden in Baden (i.e. Baden the town from Baden the state) and was changed in 1931 to the current form.

In April I was in Karlsruhe for a week participating in the biggest chess tournament in Europe. Being in Baden-Wurttemberg I took the chance to visit the beautiful towns of Baden-Baden and Heidelberg.

Baden-Baden had a rich history from antiquity but reached it’s highest political importance in the XIX century when it became “Europe’s summer capital”. These days the town looks very nice but it is obvious that its glory lies in the past. In my opinion,
from the towns I’ve seen before, it reminded me of Biarritz. The first decline in Baden-Baden tourism came in 1872 once the officials closed the famous town casino. Dostoevsky played in this casino many times in the 1860s and he wrote the novel “The Gambler” while here. In fact, he wrote the novel to pay off his gambling debts. A few years before him Leo Tolstoy lost money in the same casino. A scene from “Anna Karenina” happens in Baden-Baden. Once then casino was closed there was a need to find something else to entertain the tourists. So they opened Friedrichsbad for treatment of rheumatism and other diseases. The second decline of Baden-Baden came after the first world war when entire Germany had difficult times.
Still, the marks of the past glory are visible everywhere in the town and a visit is highly recommended.

I started my visit with a walk on the Lichtentaler Allee which looked so nice in the spring with blossomed flowers and trees.

Botanical garden
A fountain on Lichtentaler Alee

Next, I passed near the famous casino mentioned above. According to Marlene Dietrich, this is the most beautiful casino in the world. Dating from the 1820s it is also the oldest casino in Germany. Having just one day to spend in Baden-Baden and so many things to see I had not enough time to visit the casino inside.

Baden-Baden casino

Near the Casino is the Trinkhalle, the water pump, the spa main building dating from 1840s.

Trinkhalle


Being a Romanian I continued my visit climbing on Michaelsberg to see the Romanian chapel built by Mihail Sturza in the 1860s after the unexpected death of his 17 years old son in Paris in 1863. Mihail Sturza was the ruler of Moldavia between 1834 and 1849 when he emigrated to Paris. They spent the summers in Baden-Baden as many rulers did those days. The chapel is very nice, also, you can have nice views of the town from the hill.

Sturza chapel

Being in Baden-Baden I had to visit the baths as well. The Caracalla Therme looks very modern inside. There is also the Friedrichsbad inaugurated in 1877 a combination of Roman and Irish baths. “After 10 minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes the world” this is how Mark Twain described his experience at Friedrichsbad in 1878. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to enjoy the baths so I have nothing to add.

Friedrichsbad

While writing this article I’ve observed that all the monuments pictured above were built chronologically from 1824 to 1877, so you can see this experience like a time travel through the glorious XIX century of Baden-Baden.

Since I talked about the charm of the past in Baden-Baden, I guess it’s a good place to highlight the failures of the present technology. I took a bus to visit the Merkur mountain, an important tourist attraction but the funicular was closed that day although Google service said otherwise. However, I must say that in many other circumstances Google Maps has been a real help for me.

I mentioned Marlene Dietrich before and I find appropriate to end this post with her singing the German version of “Where have all the flowers gone?” in Baden-Baden. I consider her personality representative for this town.


Marlene Dietrich – Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind

Visiting Rochefort and La Rochelle

For the tourists interested in visiting Rochefort and La Rochelle I thought to share my impressions after my stay there in February. Overall they look very different. While La Rochelle was founded over one thousand years ago, Rochefort was built in the late XVII century by the French government at the time. La Rochelle has old medieval buildings, many towers, narrow and winding streets. Rochefort instead has large perpendicular streets and buildings from more recent time.

Hermione is a major attraction in Rochefort. It is a ship, a reproduction of the frigate which under command of Lafayette was sent in 1780 to help the United States revolution against England. This new ship took 15 years to build and was completed in 2012. However, being made out of wood it requires a lot of maintenance work compared with the modern ships. The frigate Hermione navigated to the United States in 2015 in a symbolic voyage.

In the vicinity of Hermione, there is the National Maritime Museum. Here the visitors can see small replicas of historical French ships. There is, for example, the replica of the submarine that inspired Jules Verne to imagine Nautilus.

This is the court of the museum. I confess that I had no idea what was this item until I read the description
It was the Raft of the Meduse well known from Gericault’s painting

The frigate Meduse left from Rochefort in June 1816 with the destination Senegal. It never reached there as it shipwrecked in July at 50 km from the shores of Mauritania.

One year before, in July 1815, the same frigate Meduse was part of a less known episode of French history. Defeated at Waterloo, the French Emperor Napoleon abdicated and wanted to emigrate to the United States. For this purpose, he went to Rochefort and ordered to have two frigates prepared for the trip. Meduse was one of the two frigates that were supposed to bring the former Emperor over the ocean. He delayed his departure waiting for French passports until the English fleet completely blockaded Rochefort and made his departure impossible. The argument that Napoleon waited for passports in Rochefort is not very convincing to me. Why did he need passports? He had great support in the United States as he sold them Louisiana in 1803. In the end, he surrendered to the English fleet near Rochefort on July 15, 1815, and was imprisoned until his death on Saint Helene island.

A plaque on the military base where Napoleon stayed before surrendering to English forces

In Rochefort, I also recommend a visit to Commerces d’Autrefois museum. Here you can see fragments of life from previous centuries. An interesting return to the day to day life in the past.

In the nineteenth century, people did not afford to buy many clothes. Instead, they dyed their old clothes using machines like this one
A chair used for tonsil surgery in the nineteenth century with a very encouraging message

I was in La Rochelle only for one day, so I had less time to visit the town than Rochefort. Coming from the railway station the first thing that caught my attention was the old port with many restaurants and the famous towers.

I visited two of the three towers. One was used by the local garrison and the other one was a prison.

The towers of La Rochelle made me think of the siege of the city in 1627-1628. At the time, La Rochelle remained the only Protestant city in France. The Catholics wanted to capture the city as in those times there was a religious war over entire Europe. Despite their fight, the Protestants were defeated. Alexandre Dumas wrote about this siege in The Three Musketeers, where the musketeers, who are positive figures, working for the king killed some Protestants. With this in mind, I was curious to see if the main cathedral in La Rochelle was Protestant or Catholic. It was Catholic because I guess vae victis.

Catholic cathedral of La Rochelle

Returning to more modern times, the market in La Rochelle is located in a nice building from the nineteenth century.

La Rochelle market place

During the second world war, La Rochelle was the base of German U-boat submarines in Atlantic. The Germans built a bunker here to shelter in case of an allied bombardment. After the Germans were defeated the bunker remained hidden until it was discovered in the 1980s. Today you can visit the bunker and find out interesting things about the German fleet and the French resistance in the area.

The bunker in La Rochelle
The black cat was the emblem of the German U-boat fleet. The picture is from the bunker.

I’ve seen and learned many interesting things on my trip and I highly recommend visiting Rochefort and La Rochelle.