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It is mesmerizing to be on the viewing side of a fish ladder, watching a huge salmon resting briefly before resuming a long journey upriver to the stream of her birth.  I had flown out to Portland, Oregon, then taken the train up to Seattle to see my older sister and meet a nephew I had never seen before.  It is a long story.  We humans undertake many trips for family reasons, and this was simply the latest in a long line.  The fish ladder was at Hiram Chittenden Locks, built in 1911.   The locals know them as the Ballard locks, for the town adjacent to the area.  They connect Puget Sound with Lake Washington.

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The locks offer a fascinating glimpse back to the time when the infrastructure of the United States was being built, when choices were made that would play out for centuries.

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The journey out West was tiring but rewarding, despite the gate changes in Philly and the traffic in Seattle.  I had a chance to get acquainted with Roger and his gracious wife, Margaret, to renew contact with my sister, Cindy and spend time with my son, Dolan, Renee and their two active children— Lucas and Zooey.

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An unexpected highlight was the adult Soapbox derby race on the slopes of Mount Tabor in Portland.  The weather was perfect and the crowd was enthusiastic.  Some of the drivers were going for speed, but quite a few had obviously built their contraptions with other intentions.

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I did a fair amount of cycling around Portland, watched over a taekwondo class, enjoyed a walk in the woods and helped land a few trout when the family decided to try their casts at a fish farm.  There were some that didn’t get away.

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With all the media attention dedicated to the start of WW I, it would be hard to ignore the fact that it was the assassination of an Austrian archduke which triggered the “war to end all wars.” It was impossible to ignore in Vienna, the city chosen to host the 19th Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law.

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My law professor partner had decided to attend this event back in January. We booked tickets on Condor, a discount airline, formerly part of the Lufthansa Group.  Aside from price, its principal attraction was a direct connection from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Frankfurt, Germany.

Unfortunately, our particular plane had tire troubles, and it took a long time to determine if different rubber would work.  Needless to say, we missed our connecting flight to Vienna. If you can avoid flying economy on Condor and/or changing planes in Frankfurt, by all means do so.

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Vienna, on the other hand, is well worth an extended visit even if you are not an opera aficionado or even an avid fan of classical music.  It is a spectacular city endowed with a wealth of art, architecture, old world charm and irresitible desserts.

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The Habsburgs ruled an empire which originated in Switzerland and eventually included much of Europe.  It began in the thirteenth century and came to an end in 1918, when Charles I refused to abdicate but renounced participation in “state affairs.”  The Habsburgs were often successful at expanding their power through strategic alliances and marriages.  Two daughters were sacrificed to the cause of improving relations with the French, the unfortunate Marie Antoinette and Marie Theresa, Napoleon’s second wife.

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Having tasted Vienna’s famous cakes more than once, I suspect the Queen’s famous “let them eat cake” was not a sign of aristocratic smugness, simply a suggestion that if there was no more bread, cake would do fine.   What did Marie Antoinette know of hunger?

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While my wife sat through long sessions on comparative law, I indulged my penchant for browsing through the city, traipsing from one museum to another with the dedication of a dachshund.  This is the home of Klimt and Kokoshka, Scheile and the Jugendsteil.  Klimt’s compositions are disturbing and captivating, and I was delighted to see some of his landscapes for the very first time.

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A new discovery for me was an artist/architect who called himself Hundertwasser.  Freidrich Stowasser was born in Vienna in 1926, traveled widely and expounded a philosophy based on man’s five skins— epidermis, clothes, house, social identity and connection to the global environment.  He called for extravagant use of color and harmony with nature rather than rationalist architecture; he fought pollution in all its forms.   The block of council flats he inspired in Vienna is extraordinary.

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The last night of the conference provided us with the opportunity to dress up and spend an evening in the main hall of Vienna’s splendid city hall — the Rathaus.  We capped that off with a weekend of visits to two Habsburg Palaces— Prince Eugene’s  Belevedere and the Shonbrunn, a glorious architectural indulgence and a mesmerizing glimpse into a vanished world.

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By Monday, our hobnobbing with the Habsburg royal past was over and it was back to interminable airports, surly service and the dictates of discount airlines.  It least it was a daytime flight and a few more days of summer in Grand Pre would be a priceless treasure.

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