By Richard T. Ortiz
We are happy to bring in snippets of Europe through the travelogue of a dear friend and writer who I reconnected after so many years through Facebook. Richard Ortiz, now the Provincial Director of the Philippine Civil Service Commission in Davao del Sur, has more than ever been the upbeat, exciting writer that I know. He shares his vacation in Austria, Germany, and Portugal, which are in his bucket list of visiting spectacular sites of the seven continents.
Richard and I shared some finest and fiercest years as campus journalists of the “Today’s Carolinian”, the student publication of the University of San Carlos in Cebu.
Enjoy the sights of grandiose world of Europe and the lasting legacies of music and arts it gave the whole world.
January 6, 2015
Memories of Mozart and The Sound of Music
One of the world’s greatest musical geniuses, Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, was born here. In the 1960s, the world’s top-grossing film of all time, Sound of Music, was filmed here. When 2015 commenced, I set foot on it.
Salzburg is located on the Austrian Alpine ranges. From Munich, Laidz and her friend Tess brought me there aboard the Le Meridian train. Minute by minute as the train swept past postcard-pretty villages, the jagged, snow-capped mountaintops of the Alps became larger and larger. Until we were right in Salzburg.
There, on top of the highest hill stood the majestic fortress where Julie Andrews, as Maria, took care of the children of the widowed Captain von Trapp in the Sound of Music. I looked around and intently listened if the hills were, indeed, alive with the sound of music, as the first line of the film’s theme song goes. All I heard was the soft whisper of the wind that seemed to carry the tune of do-re-mi, as in doe a deer a female deer. Hmm…
But in the place where Mozart was born, his presence is everywhere: there were Mozart chocolates, souvenirs of miniature violins and song notes, CDs containing his classical compositions, and so many other items that bore an image of his silhouetted visage. The house where he was born is now a museum. Another house where he grew up is now also a museum. At the park, there was a Mozart mime clad in silver looking almost like a statue, seemingly floating on a lift where he stood and frozen in pose.
A walk across the bridge over the Salzach River was itself a hypnotizing experience, as the skyline provided a panoramic view of the cityscape dominated by the dome of the Salzburg Cathedral.
Lunch was had at the Nordsee (North Sea), which offered a variety of seafood dishes harvested from the oceans near Scandinavia. There was a Filipina waitress who greeted us in Tagalog. I had pink salmon in thin, crispy batter on which a slice of lime was squeezed to bring out that gustatory delight. It was served with seafood paella that had seashells and tidbits of lobster, prawns, and squid. Truly delectable!
Frankfurt Au Main, Germany
January 9, 2015
Finance and Faust
Frankfurt is the largest financial district in continental Europe. Considered the gateway to Germany, as it locates the busiest international airport of the country, Frankfurt is a cosmopolitan city where many of its inhabitants are holders of non-German passports, lured to this metropolis by the limitless opportunities it offers.
Its famous son, Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe, is a legend in world literature whose famous “Faust” has influenced many other literary works after his time. And so there is a Goethe Museum in the city. There is also a Goethe Park. His memory is immortalized worldwide in the German cultural centers managed by the German embassies called the Goethe Institute (there’s one in Manila).
Aurita, fondly called Bingbing by family and friends, was a former student and is a sister of a BFF back in my hometown. She was my host in this city of architectural contrasts where timber-framed houses featuring the traditional German building structure stand side by side towering skyscrapers of glass and steel and churches with baroque, rococo or Gothic design.
Bingbing brought me up the top deck of a shopping complex where a cafe is located, and from there we viewed the city at an angle of 360 degrees.
Then we explored the city on foot, all around the busy thoroughfares, through the high-end avenue of luxurious boutiques, to parks, to the Iron Bridge weighed down by the thousands of love locks left there by lovers in the belief that in doing so, the union of the couple will forever be locked in time.
January 14, 2015
Magellan, I Conquer Your Place Too
Dispatched by the Spanish King, Portuguese navigator Fernando Magallanes (better known as Ferdinand Magellan) sailed the Seven Seas and discovered what was to be later called as Las Islas Filipinas. Almost five centuries later, I re-discovered Magallanes’ country, particularly its capital, Lisbon.
Aboard RyanAir, western Europe’s cheapest airline with the most number of destinations across the region, I went to Lisbon by myself and felt the beat of the city right under my feet after a three-hour flight from Frankfurth Hahn Airport.
From the Lisbon International Airport at the outskirts of the city, the airport bus took its passengers, including me, to the urban center. That was where I found my hotel, to which I had made online reservation ten days past. It was located at the top of the steep, winding, cobblestone staircases near the Gloria Funicular where a regular tram traverses the tracks to and from the city’s west-side hill, called the Bairro Alto where nightlife pulsates.
I dropped my luggage in the hotel and quickly asked for information at the Tourist Center just close to the main avenue called Avenida de Liberadades. From there, I allowed my feet to bring me where they went. I just walked and walked, took photos here and there, and walked again: from the Restauradores (Restorers) to the Rossio, to the the Pracas de Figueira, and some more. The sun was setting, and I took the opportunity to view the same sites at daylight, and later at early evening. The photos here show what I mostly saw on my first day in Lisbon.
The second day brought me more surprises.
Lisbon wowed the world when it hosted the 1998 World Exposition. By the embankment of the Tagus River that flows right to the Atlantic, modern structures of glass and steel were constructed, gracefully flowing from one to the other amid expansive parks with manicured gardens. Along this strip, the countries of the world came and joined with their own Expo ’98 exhibitions. Today, the structures remain and have been continued to be used to sell Lisbon to the world. Elsewhere in the city, museums of every kind abound: maritime museum, electricity museum, museum of decorative arts, Asian museum, museum of contemporary arts, museum of modern design, etcetera. Lisbon is rich in history and culture. Its old buildings stand as testament to the Moorish invasion and to the Catholic Crusades that once fired the spirit and imagination of the Portuguese.
To get a quick look at the entire city without having to spend too much, I bought a single ticket to the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus that entitled me to cross three city tour routes within 48 hours. And so I hopped in one bus of each city tour route and never got off until the circle is completed, and took the next city tour route until I completed all three routes. No tour guide was necessary. Every passenger is handed over an earphone that is connected to a panel in front of the seat. The language of choice is selected so that the recorded voice that provides informative tidbits on the places that the bus passes by is transmitted.
The only place where I got off was at the Castle of Saint George atop the city’s eastern hill, as I wanted to see the city from there as it was sprawled below me. And what a sight it was!
To cap my day, I had pastel de nata, the Portuguese custard tart. It is said that one should never leave Portugal without having eaten at least one of it. Appropriately sweet custard cream in a crusty base, the pastel de nata is truly heavenly.