travel

Off to Croatia today…

The featured photo is the view from our hotel room as the sun was setting… It about suits the mood of Wels.

Our second day in Wels was interesting. We tasted some Austrian wines, walked around the city, and ate some fabulous Greek food. Then last night, we ended up in an Irish pub, where the proprietor seemed to be trying to cater to our musical needs.

The pub was very small and, like all of the other buildings we’ve been in in Wels, had very thick walls and a cavernous kind of look. I love the ancient effect, but forget trying to use a cell phone. For about an hour, we were the only ones sitting in the very dark back of the bar. The guy turned on some of the lights, including the electric dart board and the TV, which he eventually tuned to South Park.

Then, after a few pretty horrifying songs on the sound system, to include a very profane number by Eminem, a classic Hall & Oates song came on called “You Make My Dreams”. Bill asked me what year the song came out. I said 1981… maybe 1980. Sure enough, the next song was “The Best That You Can Do (Arthur’s Theme)” from the movie Arthur (1981). We enjoyed the first half of that song before they changed it to “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull. Then, we were back to rowdy Irish music by The Pogues.

I can’t say it was the most authentic Irish pub I’ve ever been to. Aside from the weird music, they also only offered candy bars for snacks. But it was fun to sit in a bar and watch a bunch of college aged Austrian guys shoot darts while we drank Guinness. It was actually kind of exciting to watch them. I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I was that young. They looked like they could have been my sons. :'( But still, it’s fun to watch guys that age competing with each other. Their energy is infectious.

Sadly, my guts are still recovering from the nitrogen.

Oh… and I saw at least two young women urgently run for the toilet. I know how that goes. I’m not sure which end was about to explode, but I felt for them. I’ve been where they were. As we were leaving, the bartender asked us where we were from. I think he knew damned well that we are Americans. The real question was, what the hell were we doing in Wels? We told him we live in Germany. Wels isn’t a remarkable town, but it’s very pleasant and pretty. It’s not a bad place to stop in Austria. The last couple of days remind me of when I randomly got off a train in St. Polten, Austria, in 1997, and hung out there for three days while I made my way to meet friends in Zilina, Slovakia.

We probably should have made more of an attempt to visit museums and such yesterday, but honestly, it was just nice to be in a new town and walk around. Wels is definitely not a bad place to rest for a day or two. Don’t know if I’ll be back, but now I can cross it off the list of Austrian towns I’ve seen.

I am looking forward to getting to Croatia tonight.

One other thing… USAA called me last night and Tuesday night about my complaints regarding their tendency to block my credit and debit cards when I try to use them. I had to explain, once again, that they don’t allow international phone numbers for texts anymore. The person who called me didn’t seem to know. Something bad is happening to their customer service. It’s like they’re going through the motions. I might have to write a letter. Or maybe I’ll just blog and let their reputation management people stalk me so I can make a few pennies in ad revenue.

Well, so ends my brief recap of yesterday. Maybe, if the Internet is good, I’ll start travel blogging in Croatia, and there will be many pictures.

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travel

We’re in Wels…

We got here yesterday afternoon, not knowing that it was Austrian National Day, which is a holiday. Consequently, a lot of places were closed… but that was okay, since we just wanted to walk around the area and see everything. This is a pretty town, not too far into Austria and about halfway to tomorrow’s destination in Croatia from our home in Germany. I don’t think Wels is known for being a tourist mecca, but they do have catfish here. That’s something I just learned yesterday.

Arran and Noyzi are at the dog hotel. Noyzi was absolutely delighted to be there, but Arran looked a little sad. Poor guy is getting too old for dog hotels. He’d rather be with us. But we told Natasha, who takes care of them, that it’s okay if they aren’t together all the time. I have a feeling that being stuck with Noyzi is a big part of it. Arran has gotten to like Noyzi more, but he’s much older and smaller than Noyzi is. It’s like grandpa and teen boy sharing a room.

We’ll be here until tomorrow… our hotel offers us the opportunity to borrow a goldfish if we’re lonely for our dogs. Too weird!

Last night, we walked around the old part of Wels and ended up having dinner at a hole in the wall Italian restaurant. It’s lucky we got there early, because they were very busy. A young couple sat next to us. I caught the male half eyeballing us. Bill noticed, too. I suspect it was because he noticed that I had no fewer than three Apple gadgets… a watch, a phone, and my iPad. I used the iPad to take a photo of Bill, because my phone was dying.

Then, when the food came out, we noticed he and his girlfriend shared a pizza and they had a round of drinks. Bill had veal and I had shrimp, both of which came with side vegetables and a salad. The guy kind of obviously noticed that, too. Then they had dessert. We didn’t have dessert there, because it was so busy and we figured they wanted their table back. As we were walking back to the hotel with gelato, we talked about that couple. We noticed the guy looked a little jealous.

I wanted to tell him that, for the first five years of our marriage, we were totally broke, too. We know how it is. But then, he also might have been wondering what the hell Americans are doing in a place like Wels, instead of Vienna or Salzburg, or even Innsbruck. Or maybe he thought we were too old and fat for such a nice meal. Anyway, it’s none of my business, and I don’t like to mindread. It was just obvious that he noticed us. That’s mainly because the tables were close together. It’s a small place with a tiny dining room.

We decided to come back to the hotel after dinner. We watched TV, including a show about paramedics in different parts of Germany. I was surprised I could understand some of it. I probably should watch move TV in German.

I’m not sure what we will do today. There is a therme (spa) near us, but it looks very kid friendly. When I go to the spa, I like to relax. There’s also a pretty cool looking science museum we might visit. The lovely thing about Austria is that COVID-19 restrictions are pretty lax here. In fact, for those who are vaccinated, they don’t even require masks for most indoor stuff. You have to wear them on public transportation, in pharmacies, hospitals and nursing homes, and supermarkets. But other than that, it’s like 2019 again.

This is why I was so eager to leave Germany for awhile… ūüėČ

I’ll probably write some brief travel stories here, so it’ll be easier to write my travel blogs. I like to include stories, especially since we aren’t that big on doing touristy stuff anymore. But I do love to share stories about the people we meet, things we see, and our wacky experiences on the road. And, if I get excited, I’m sure there will be ranting, too.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Repost of my review of Natascha Kampusch’s 3096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape

And finally, my reposted review of Natascha Kampusch’s book. Natascha Kampusch was also abducted and kept in a dungeon in Austria for years. Incidentally, today is the 23rd anniversary of Natascha’s abduction.

I always wanted to be a mother, but given the recent awful stories about child abductions that have become so widely publicized, maybe it’s better that I’m not one.  Thanks to the constant influx of news we get these days, I think if I were a mother, I would worry all the time about my kids.  When I was growing up, I had the freedom to pretty much do as I pleased.  I was all over my rural neighborhood and sometimes didn’t come home until after dark.  Today’s kids, by and large, don’t seem to have that same level of freedom.  Sometimes I think it’s ridiculous… until I read about people like Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, or Natascha Kampusch

In 1998, Natascha Kampusch was a chubby ten year old girl living in Vienna, Austria with her mother.  As she writes at the beginning of her book, 2010’s 3096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape, Natascha’s early life wasn’t very fulfilling.  Her parents were divorced and did not co-parent very effectively.  Her mother wasn’t especially kind to her, especially about her weight issues.  Her father was uninvolved and treated her like an inconvenience. 

In fact, on March 2, 1998, the day her life changed, Natascha was fresh from an unsatisfying visit with her father.  She dressed for school, ate breakfast, and headed on her way.  She had no way that Wolfgang Priklopil was waiting for her with his white van.  The kidnapper grabbed Natascha and forced her into the vehicle.  He then drove her to his home, where he had built a tiny dungeon especially for her.  The dungeon had just five square meters of space, but it would become her home for the rest of her childhood. 

Over the next eight years, Natascha would come to love the simplest things in life, things that many people take for granted.  She grew to love listening to the radio, which the kidnapper had originally set to only pick up stations that came from the Czech Republic.  Not knowing Czech, Natascha had no access to information.  Natascha grew to relish the very few times when she had a full stomach.  Wolfgang Priklopil had an eating disorder and misery loves company, so he shared his food issues with Natascha.  He forced Natascha to stick to very strict starvation diets, which caused her to lose all that extra weight her mother used to criticize her for.  The kidnapper hated women, which may have been why he forced his captive to starve.  When she started to get too “strong” for him, the kidnapper would withhold food again, until she was on the verge of collapse.  He meant to keep her weak, compliant, and I daresay, boyish, a look that even extended to Natascha’s hairstyle. 

The kidnapper was extremely paranoid of anyone finding out that he had Natascha with him.  Conscious that crimes are often solved by hair samples, Priklopil forced Natascha to wear bags on her head.  Later, he forced her to cut off all her hair until she was bald.  He convinced her that if she tried to escape, people would die.  He claimed that all the doors and windows in his house were rigged with explosives.  In time, the kidnapper forced Natascha to do work.  

Natascha Kampusch did not leave the kidnapper’s house until she was 18 years old, and even then, he was always with her, warning her against alerting anyone that she needed help.  He would not let her call herself by her name or talk about her life prior to her time with him.  Like so many other kidnappers, Priklopil knew that he had to erase his victim’s past.  And yet, somehow, she was able to keep a sense of dignity.  When her kidnapper demanded that she kneel and refer to him as “My Lord”, Natascha refused to do it.  On August 23, 2006, she finally found the strength to escape.     

My thoughts

Natascha Kampusch relates her amazing story in highly intelligent, dignified, and descriptive prose.  Despite being pulled out of school at 10 years old, Natascha Kampusch is very educated, in part because the kidnapper gave her books to read.  At the end of the book, there is a note that Natascha Kampusch wrote the English version of her book.  It is very well written, albeit in a rather formal style.

I appreciated Kampusch’s analysis of what had happened to her.  She relates the experience in a rather detached way, yet manages to offer a clear story of who her kidnapper was.  In riveting detail, she explains what it feels like to starve.  She relates how terrified she was when the kidnapper would become enraged and beat on her. 

I also found it interesting to read about how people treated Kampusch when she was rescued.  At first, people were very kind to her.  But when she didn’t hate her kidnapper the way the public felt she should, they turned on her.  Some people accused her of suffering from Stockholm syndrome, which she denies.  I have to admit, her reasoning makes a lot of sense.       

Priklopil committed suicide right after Kampusch escaped.  When Kampusch heard the news, she was supposedly grief-stricken about it.  The public didn’t understand how she could grieve for a man who was so cruel to her.  But Nastascha explains that for eight years, her whole world revolved around her kidnapper.  Her time with him was a significant part of her life and he wasn’t always cruel.  There were times when he showed her small kindnesses, for which she was always very grateful.  It seemed to me that Natascha came to the very true realization that no situation is all good or all bad.  And no person is all good or all bad. 

I admire Natascha Kampusch’s logic and dignity and wonder at her ability to survive and analyze such an ordeal.  I read from a different source that after Priklopil died, Natascha Kampusch became his heir.  She now owns the house where she was held prisoner… a place she never wanted to live in for which she now must pay utilities and taxes.  Life is bizarre.

Overall

As horrible as Natascha Kampusch’s experiences were, I am grateful that she wrote this book.  I found her story fascinating. 

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true crime

Repost: More on Josef Fritzl

This isn’t a book review; it’s more commentary on the Fritzl case. I wrote it in September 2014 and it appears here as/is. I’m adding it in case anyone’s interested in my specific thoughts about this case.

The other day, I posted¬†a review of John Glatt’s true crime book,¬†Secrets in the Cellar, a book about Austrian madman Josef Fritzl. ¬†I started reading another book about Fritzl called¬†I’m No Monster. ¬†I think Glatt must have also read this book, which seems to be more comprehensive and original than Glatt’s book was. ¬†I’m not quite finished with the book yet, so I’m not ready to review it. ¬†I’m just writing about Josef Fritzl today because the more I read about him and his double life, the more creeped out I am.¬†

Here was a man who appeared to be completely normal and respectable on the outside, yet he had all these dark thoughts and bizarre desires.  What would drive a man who imprison his own daughter for twenty-four years in an underground cellar?  How could he live with himself, knowing that another human being was underground bearing his children all alone, deprived of sunlight, fresh air, medical attention, decent food, and social interactions with others?

I know Josef Fritzl is not a normal person. ¬†He’s definitely narcissistic and almost certainly a sociopath. ¬†He clearly saw his daughter, Elisabeth, and the children he made with her as objects that belonged to him. ¬†While I can understand how the three kids who lived in the cellar with Elisabeth coped– they knew nothing else– how in the world did Elisabeth not lose her mind?

Even in prison, when prisoners go to “the hole”, they come out after a few weeks or months. ¬†Elisabeth spent twenty-four years in an underground cellar, where she was subjected to constant rapes by her own father. ¬†He tormented her with lies about how if she tried to escape, poisonous gases would kill her and her kids. ¬†Or she would be instantly electrocuted. ¬†He beat her and the kids, but then he’d also beaten Elisabeth’s mother, Rosemarie.

To me, Elisabeth endured a far worse ordeal than any prisoner. ¬†It’s a testament to her strength that she was able to survive and not be completely crazy in the aftermath. ¬†There she was in an underground cell designed by her father, right under the apartment block where he housed transients for years. ¬†

And yet, to hear Fritzl explain himself, he did Elisabeth a favor and “saved” her from drugs by banishing her underground. ¬†It’s terrifying to think about how believable and respectable this monster appeared to be. ¬†It makes one wonder how many more people are like him in the world. ¬†

I also wonder what it must have been like for Elisabeth to emerge from that prison after twenty-four years.  She missed out on her youth, sequestered in that hole with rats and other vermin.  How did it feel to have the warm glow of sunshine on her face and wind in her hair.  What was it like to breathe fresh air?  She had known all of these things before and had taught her children about them, but when they finally experienced it, it must have been like walking in space with no space suit.

What was it like for Elisabeth’s mother and siblings and the three kids she had that were allowed to grow up above ground? ¬†I especially wonder how Rosemarie coped when she found out that her husband had been imprisoning and raping their daughter for so long. ¬†It’s bad enough to be the spouse of someone who cheats with someone not in the family and doesn’t commit felonious acts in the process. ¬†How could she deal with knowing her husband had been abusing their daughter, making babies with her, imprisoning her daughter and her grandchildren underground, and this had been going on for twenty-four years! ¬†How did Rosemarie not lose her mind?

I’m sure that if Josef Fritzl had committed his atrocities in the United States and he was in a death penalty state, he’d have been executed by now. ¬†While I’m no fan of the death penalty, I’m not sure I would feel sorry for him. ¬†On the other hand, being incarcerated for the rest of his life might be the most fitting punishment for Josef Fritzl. ¬†However, due to his advanced age when he was finally caught, it’s unlikely that he’ll be in prison for as long as he kept Elisabeth underground. ¬†And his time behind bars is no doubt less traumatic as well. ¬†He won’t be forced to give birth alone in the dark, cut the umbilical cords of his own children, or watch and worry helplessly when they get sick. ¬†

Josef Fritzl evidently has no conscience anyway, so even if he were a mother of a sick child, it’s unlikely he’d do anything about it except to maintain his control over someone he saw as a possession. ¬†Much like maintaining a vehicle or a household, he’d take care of those kids only out of obligation, because if they died on his watch, he’d cease to own them anymore. ¬†It would represent a loss of power, not the loss of an emotional connection.

The more I read about this case, the more horrified I am by it. ¬†At the same time, it’s morbidly fascinating. ¬†Josef Fritzl evidently had an abusive mother who was sent to a concentration camp for refusing to accommodate authorities during World War II. ¬†She was always a cold, abusive woman and came back from the camp even weirder and more abusive. ¬†Josef never knew his real father and didn’t get to bond with his father figure, so he was influenced by his mother, who by all accounts was not a nice person. ¬†While that’s no excuse for his behavior, it does go to show how important empathetic parents are to their children and how abuse can lead to the formation of monsters.¬†

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Review of I’m No Monster: The Horrifying True Story of Josef Fritzl

Here’s another reposted review about Josef Fritzl. It was written in September 2014 and appears as/is.

If you’ve been reading this blog recently, you know I’ve been reading about Austria’s infamous Josef Fritzl, a man who imprisoned and raped his daughter, Elisabeth, in an underground cellar for 24 years. ¬†Fritzl had seven children with his wife, Rosemarie, and seven more with Elisabeth, not including one that was miscarried. ¬†Six of Elisabeth’s children are still living. ¬†One of the seven, a twin to her son, Alexander, died just a few days after he was born in the cellar. ¬†Three of Elisabeth’s children were raised above ground, while the two eldest, Kerstin and Stephan, and the youngest, Felix, stayed underground with their mother.

The first book I read about this case was¬†Secrets in the Cellar¬†by John Glatt. ¬†I followed up with¬†I’m No Monster, written by Stefanie Marsh and Bojan Pancevski. ¬†Overall, I think¬†I’m No Monster¬†is the better book, although I did notice there were some typos and errors in it. ¬†For one thing, the authors repeatedly refer to St. Poelten as St. Pollen. ¬†I almost wonder if the word was “spell checked” as they wrote it and they never noticed it. ¬†For another thing, there are some awkward sentence structures in the book that could have used editing. ¬†The writing is also frequently somewhat repetitive.

The information presented within the book, however, is very interesting.  The authors go into more detail about Fritzl’s upbringing that Glatt omitted.  For example, I didn’t know that Josef Fritzl’s mother had spent time in a concentration camp for not housing German officials.  She had been a very cold and abusive woman before she went away, but was much worse when she came back.  Fritzl was supposedly beaten bloody by his mother until he finally got big enough to fight back.  He was left with emotional scars that supposedly drove him to violate his daughter.  He has been quoted as saying he was “born to rape” and having Elisabeth gave him someone to victimize, as sick as it is.  I didn’t get as much of a sense that the authors of I’m No Monster were injecting their own opinions about the case as much as Glatt did, although obviously neither book paints Fritzl in a positive light.   

The authors of I’m No Monster also write about the community of Amstetten, where this crime took place.  It is apparently a very straight-laced kind of town at a perfection junction between Germany and Italy.  It even sounds like the kind of place I might want to visit sometime.

Now that I’ve read two books on Josef Fritzl, I think it may be time to move on to another topic.  I hate to say I enjoy reading about true crime, though I do find the people involved in these cases fascinating.  Josef Fritzl is a liar and a narcissist.  According to this book, he wanted to be studied by the top psychologists and psychiatrists and was even working on his own memoirs…  As if being infamous gives him the right to become a celebrity of sorts.  Maybe reading books about Josef Fritzl is counterproductive in that sense, since it gives criminals notoriety that they don’t deserve.  For me, personally, reading these books offers a glimpse into the mindset of criminals.

Anyway, I would recommend¬†I’m No Monster, though I do think it could have been better written.

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