July 28, 2009

Austrian Weekend Getaway (Part III-Alm Hike)






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Early Saturday morning of our stay in Dorfgastein, we set out on a 4K hike up the mountain to the Strohlehenalm. An alm is an alpine pasture, and this one has a farmhouse you can visit where they make their own cheese. Think Heidi.

At the beginning of the hike, there were some foreboding clouds off in the distance, but we decided to chance it. We've learned that Austrian weather can turn on you in an instant. We made it a good way up the mountain and stopped to look at some cows complete with alpine bells. Just after we continued on, we felt a few drops and noticed the cows running for cover under a tree. They knew what was coming. We were soon hiking in a downpour and praying not to see any lightning. We had no idea how much further the alm was but were determined to carry on because this was our one and only shot to see one. Luckily, the shower was over about as quickly as it came. We were soaked, but the bright sun that followed, dried us up in no time.

The hike was incredibly beautiful. I couldn't get over how green the mountains were. The trees went clear to the mountain tops. Looking across the valley, I was also surprised how many farms were so high up. I wondered what these people do to commute to the village below in winter. Later, I found out when their SUVs can't handle it, they use horse and sleigh.

We reached the Strohlehenalm and were greeted by a dog and the farmer's wife. After looking around for a bit, we ordered some hot chocolate. The farmer's wife went to her refrigerator, a big trough thing with cold mountain run off water running through it, and opened a big bucket and ladled out fresh milk. She made the hot chocolate on an old, beautifully decorated, wood burning stove. In the crisp mountain air at an old farmhouse in the Austrian mountains, that was some of the best hot chocolate I've ever had.

After hot chocolate, we went into the farmhouse and sampled some of their cheese. We purchased a huge wedge that we enjoyed for several subsequent meals. We then made our way out to the little petting zoo see some goats and bunnies.

The weather cooperated the rest of the day and we hiked back down to move on to the next plan for the day. However, halfway down the mountain I forgot a promise I made to Lori. I'm sure we're not the only dumb American tourists to have done this. Enjoy, Lori!

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Austrian Weekend Getaway (Part II-Oompa!)

After Hellbrunn, Helga, the GPS voice, got us safely to Dorfgastein, a little ski resort village near Salzburg. Katie and the kids fell in love with the village when they came the last time and wanted to show it to me. It was also love at first sight with me. What a great little alpine village!

After checking in to our rooms at Haus Tirol, Katie and the boys gave me a little walking tour. It started to rain, so we decided to pop into a restaurant for some
dinner. We had an authentic Austrian dinner complete with goulash soup, spätzle, schnitzel, potato salad and Almdudler (our favorite Austrian soda). While in the restaurant, our waitress told us about a concert that night in the town hall.

We didn't have any plans, so we went on over. This is one of those times when you discover a wonderful surprise completely by accident, which by the way, happens a lot here in Austria. The concert was a brass and wind band made up of locals dressed in native costume. Most of the audience was also wearing lederhosen and dirndls. We may have been the only tourists in the room. The concert was free, but you did have to order drinks. Most were having beer and schnapps, but we ordered another round of Almdudler.

Here are some clips from the concert. They did a medley of "Vurld Heetz". See if you can guess the songs.




At first, Katie didn't want me to video the Michael Jackson song, but I had to. Michael Jackson died just prior to our Austria trip, so he was in the news a lot over here. Whenever we here something about Michael Jackson or one of his songs, it will bring back a lot of great Austrian memories. Also, how often is it you hear one of his songs played by an Austrian oompa band decked out in lederhosen and dirndls? A once-in-a-lifetime experience is what I call it!

And finally, I had to include this clip. These four guys performed about 5 times throughout the night. In between their songs, they were in the back of the hall drinking beer and schnapps. For me, that increased the drama and excitement each time. I know I've said it before in blog postings, but the Austrians just aren't as lawsuit happy as the Americans.



After the concert, we sauntered
happily back to our little Haus Tirol. As we passed the village church. All the graves outside were lit up with candles. I have a thing for cemeteries, so I really loved this. I just wish one of the pictures I took had turned out. (note to kids: I want candles on my grave. Lighting them once a year will be fine with me.)

Here is a photo collage of Haus Tirol, where we stayed in Dorfgastein. A weekend just wasn't enough.







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Austrian Weekend Getaway (Part I-Hellbrunn)

For our last weekend in Austria, we decided to take a little side trip to Salzburg and Dorfgastein. It turned out to be just Katie, the boys, and I because Chloe went on an excursion of her own to Budapest with a couple of students.

I'm sure it turned out to be a lot more expensive in the long run, but we decided to rent a car than go by train. We wanted to fit as much as we could into the weekend.

We first picked up our Opel Corsa at the car rental. I rented a GPS system to help get us to our destination. Katie and I had never used a GPS, and after following and repeating the instructions many times, we could not get it to work properly. I was also nervous about driving in downtown Vienna, where practically every narrow street is a oneway. After taking several wrong turns, we decided to go back to the car rental. We were only a couple of blocks away, and you would think that it wouldn't be too difficult. But once again, we ended up doing a lot of circles because we couldn't figure out the oneway roads. Finally, after being honked at several times, we made it. The car rental employee showed us how to get the GPS thing working. It turns out that it can take up to ten minutes to connect to all the satellites it needs to, especially in downtown Vienna. We did not know this helpful bit of information.

We were finally off cautitiously making our way out of Vienna. After leaving Vienna, the GPS voice, whom we affectionately named "Helga", led through tiny little village after tiny little village. After about 45 minutes of this, I began to wonder what Helga was doing. Wouldn't it be easier to get on the freeway. I then notice that the GPS screen said we would arrive at our destination in six hours! Salzburg is only supposed to be a few hours away. I pulled over, and we played with the system to find out that we had programmed Helga to take us to Salzburg avoiding toll roads. Argh! We got her reprogrammed, and were once again on our way, backtracking a bit to get to the freeway. Once on the freeway, Katie and I were able to calm down, and everything went smoothly from there.

The first stop on our list was Hellbrunn, a summer palace built by the archbisop of Salzburg in the early 1600s. The highlight of the tour is the gardens. Powered completely by water, the gardens are full of entertaining mechanical features. Additionally, the archbishop who built the palace was a practical joker so he had several trick fountains included.

Katie and the boys visited Hellbrunn when they were here three years ago. I remember them telling me about one of the trick fountains, and I thought that was the only one, so I knew to stay away. However, there were many more. It also didn't take me too long to figure out that Katie and the boys would stand in a place they knew would be squirted with water and then when I came to stand next to them, they would quietly sneek away, leaving me to get doused.

One one water feature I remember Katie and the kids telling me about was the outdoor dining table. The tour guide asked for volunteers to come sit at the table where the archbishop would entertain guests. She asked several times and no one would raise their hands. Liam remembered what happened to the volunteers but Tomas couldn't. I bribed Liam with a couple Euros to take Tomas down. The tour guide said there were three rules for sitting at the table: 1. keep your hands on the table, 2. don't move, 3. and keep smiling. In this video, you can see that Tomas did his very best.

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Did you notice that Liam chose to sit at the head of the table where the archbishop sat while Tomas got a high colonic treatment of pure Austrian spring water? Here's a what Tomas looked like afterwards. What a good sport!



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Here is my first attempt at adding a youtube video. It's a montage of video clips and photos from the Hellbrunn gardens. Enjoy!










Here are some pictures of the palace. I had to take two photos of the archbishop who built the place. One is his official portrait and one is him as a knight wooing a fair maiden. What about those vows of poverty and chastity?









And finally, when in the land of the Sound of Music, one must take pictures like these:




Everybody sing! "How do you solve a problem like Katie?..."








Hey, it's the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" pavilion! Funny that only Americans and Japanese are taking pictures of it. Maybe The Sound of Music is to Austria what Napoleon Dynamite is to Preston, ID?

July 27, 2009

The Sisi Combo

I don't know where to start with this entry. There was just SO much stuff! Trying to remember it all gives me a whoppin' brain cramp. I'm talking about the four museums that were part of the Sisi Combo Ticket, in addition to the imperial summer palace, Schönbrunn. Our whirlwind tour of museums included the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, the Imperial Silver Collection, and the Imperial Furniture Collection. And I repeat, there was SO much stuff!

I guess, for lack of any other organization, I'll go from least to most favorite.


The Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments are located in the Hofburg palace, and showcases the apartments and lives of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Empress Sisi, with
heavy emphasis on the latter. Sisi is the "Princess Diana" of Austria. She was forced into a marriage at a very young age and never fit in with the court life. She is portrayed as a free spirit. Sisi's image is everywhere. They have Sisi chocolates, Sisi Barbie-like dolls, Sisi Japanese anime cartoons. She is somehow worked into every Viennese tourist destination. They even highlighted her in the Military History Museum. If interested, click here for more about Sisi. Our family seems to be a little divided on our opinions of Sisi. Liam and I think she was kind of a brat. She had a much better life than most people of the time, she had a husband who loved her, and she had very little to do with her children. Katie and Chloe sympathize because of the arranged marriage and the fact she had an overbearing mother-in-law. Katie also knows a lot about the oppressive court protocol. I personally think the Austrians make too big of a deal about her. I find Maria Theresa far more interesting.

Photography wasn't allowed in the Sisi Museum or the apartments. I just remember seeing some of Sisi's dresses and a bunch of furniture. I'm glad I went once but will probably skip this next time.


Next was the Imperial Silver Collection. When you have hundreds of years of history with each royal selecting a new china and silver pattern, you have a lot to show off. We were blown away at the room after room of dishes. Liam appears in the photos because he was the only one who hung back with me looking at every single thing down to the last solid silver self-cleaning sauce separator. (
Get the reference, Oma and Opa?) In the top row, you can see Maria Theresa's personal traveling silver set.






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They really took napkin folding to a whole new level. The one on the top left was the special Imperial Austrian napkin fold. There are apparently only two people in the world who know how to do this fold, and the secret is passed from generation to generation. I thought for sure someone would have figured it out and posted it on the web, but I haven't found it. Maybe someday when I have absolutely nothing to do, I'll see if I can discover the secret.















Katie and the kids are showing off the imperial collection. In the bottom, right you can see a set of china that French king, Louis XV, gave to Maria Theresa. I included this because it's mentioned in a book I'm reading. Next to this picture, you can see a special wash tub and accouterments used in the Foot Washing Ceremony. The emperor and empress would wash the feet of specially selected poor people during Holy Week. The emperor would distribute little purses containing 30 pieces of silver among the invited poor. In the picture where Chloe and Tomas look like they're smoking something illegal, they are actually pretending to be sipping tea from Maria Theresa's tea set behind them.















Back in our apartment, we took some pictures of our beautiful dish and silver collection. Compared to what the Hapsburgs had, I think we match up pretty well. Our favorites were the green glasses molded like Coke cans and the goose egg cup. I'm sure they could be sold for a small fortune on ebay.















Of the four museums, my favorite was the Imperial Furniture Museum. One would think that this would be completely boring. But, we were all in such a goofy mood, it turned out to be a blast. We also got to take part in a survey and got free chocolate (the expensive stuff, too). The museum is not in the Hofburg complex but in a very unassuming building within walking distance of our apartment. If it weren't part of the Sisi Combo Ticket, I don't think anyone would ever go there. As it was, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
I guess instead of having everything set up in the Hofburg Palace because they still use it for the government, they set up everything here.

Here are some things to look for in the picture below:
  1. Maria Theresa's and Sis's portraits
  2. Sisi's bedroom furniture, complete with bidet (ewww!)
  3. A Turkish tent captured by Prince Eugene (We learned about him in the military museum.)
  4. Two different thrones (I think one was for Franz Joseph and the other for Joseph I.)
  5. What an empty room in an Austrian museum? No way!
  6. The cushy wheelchair for Maria Theresa's every obese mother














This video demonstrates the mood we were in. And all for the people down below to see. "Ach, those crazy Americans!"
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July 23, 2009

The Boys Play Dress Up






I think one or more of these might reappear in this year's Christmas newsletter. (click to enlarge)











While Katie and Chloe visited an art museum with the students, I took the boys
to the Children's Museum at the imperial summer palace of Schönbrunn.

From the posters around town featuring Casper the Friendly Ghost ("Poldi" in Austria), Liam and I had rather low expectations figuring the museum would be more for Tomas' age. However, we were pleasantly surprised. The museum teaches children (and adults) about the lives of the royal children that lived in Schönbrunn and compared them to the average kids of the day. There were some great interactive displays and some interesting artifacts. We picked the perfect time to go because we practically had the place to ourselves. Here are some of the highlights:


  • The Puzzle Room--I have never been good at doing puzzles. In the Puzzle Room, Liam and especially Tomas proved they haven't inherited this trait. The boys had 3D wooden puzzles representing three of the buildings at Schönbrunn completed in no time. When we came into the room, the blocks were scattered about, and there was only a photograph of the actual buildings as a guide. Liam and Tomas were very kind to let me put a couple of the easier pieces into place.

  • The Costume Room--In Jackson Hole, I've dressed up like a cowboy. In Beijing, I dressed up like an emperor. Here, the boys and I dressed up as 18th century Hapsburg royalty. Since the room was practically empty (except for one other family and the worker who quickly rehung everything the kids threw off), the boys got to try on lots of different costumes and didn't mind posing for lots of photos. The boys took turns being the emperor and bossing the other around.

  • The Dining Hall--This is where the camera battery died. Argh! I took pictures with the cell phone we're renting, but I can't figure out how to get the pictures onto the computer. In the Dining Hall, they have a giant banquet table and shelves stocked with an amazing array of very realistic looking play food. They also had silverware, candleabras, and actual glassware and dishes (once again, the Austrians aren't so worried about law suits). They had instructions how to set a proper Hapsburg table. The boys had already learned all about this when we visited the Silberkammer, a museum showcasing the Hapsburg china, silver, table settings and decor. However, they chose to do their own thing. There were lobsters doing balancing tricks on candleabras, foot high vegetable pyramids, plastic roasted chickens doing, for lack of a better word, headstands. Every possible piece of china, cutlery, and glassware was used in some unconventional way. And since Liam was involved, explosive sound effects were also involved.
We spent a whopping two hours in the museum and could have stayed longer if we didn't have to get back. We all agreed the museum needs to ditch Casper, but overall, Liam said it was "pretty cool" and Tomas gave it a "thumbs up." Since the kids were completely entertained and they had seating for parents in every room, it gets my vote.

This Is What I Call Birthday Cake!





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After the Danube bike trip, the original plan was for the adults to go to the café at Hotel Sacher for birthday cake. Since the café closes at midnight, we didn't make it. I had to wait until Tuesday evening, but the wait was totally worth it. Rob and Mary Ann joined us for the event.

The Sacher Café is probably the most famous café in Vienna. And when you get only one shot at it, Sacher Torte is a must. Sacher Torte is a cake consisting of two layers of chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. It is traditionally served with whipped cream. Sacher Torte is actually served all over Vienna. I've even had it back in the States. But, the Sacher Café claims to have the original secret recipe.

So, it was Sacher Torte all around. Though it was a warm evening, I was also dying to find out what their hot chocolate was like, so I ordered it.

The cake did not disappoint. In fact, I think it blew away all the imitation Sacher Tortes I've had in the past. It also helped that we were in a beautiful setting with very good friends. The café is very shishi poopoo. Our decked out table looked out to the spectacular Opera House, and the waitstaff all wore vests and black bow ties. An additional touch that was really cool was how the menus hung on these little stands on the table, and you held them with these little carved wooden handles. (see the picture to get the idea)

I can only recommend the hot chocolate if you are a fan of bittersweet chocolate, which I'm not. Katie loves it that way, and groaned as I added three packets of sugar to get it to my liking.

We still have three cafés we'd like to try before leaving Vienna, so we'd better get with it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Viennese love to just hang out in these cafés for hours. I would actually like to try that sometime, too. Right now, there's just too much to see and do in this city, and 30 to 45 minutes is about all the time we have to spare.

July 22, 2009

44 for 44 (part II)

Part II of the birthday outing begins at the bicycle rental at a small hotel on the opposite side of the Danube. They had a pretty large selection of bikes to choose from but only one trailer thing to haul Tomas and Sebi, which amounts to about 100 lbs. of dead weight to pull. We looked the bikes over, and Rob and I independently chose the same model of bike. We were both thinking along the same lines--get the largest seat possible. Rob even told the lady helping us he needed a big fat grandpa seat because those small ones were nothing more than a suppository. I was impressed he knew the German word for "suppository"--a word that never came up on my mission or years of studying German in school.






We've got our bikes. Let's go!







The owners of the hotel told us it would take about three hours to make it to Krems about 40K away. I took the first shift of pulling the not-so-little ones, and we were off. The first leg of the journey was very pleasant. A nice bike path followed along the Danube. The scenery was beautiful, and we passed through a couple of cute little villages. Some of the houses look like they were built in the Middle Ages.

This region is famous for two things in particular, wine and apricots. As it turns out, apricot season is in full swing. We stopped at a stand, and Rob bought some apricots for everyone. Compared to our picky eaters, the Mc kids will eat about anything especially fruits and vegetables. When Rob offered the apricots to the my kids, I thought they would pass. Even I am not the biggest apricot fan. However, I don't know if it was just because we were outdoors on a lovely day in Austria or if they were really good apricots, but we loved them. It didn't take long before all the apricots were devoured. And it wasn't much later that the kids were asking for more. Rob stopped at an apricot tree next to the path and asked me if I thought it would be OK if he picked a few. I rationalized by saying they were already so ripe they were falling on the ground, and Farmer Braun wasn't going to make it to this part of the orchard anytime soon. Also, right next to where Rob stopped was one of these mini-roadside chapels (see photo below) you find a lot in southern Germany and Austria. After picking the apricots, Rob could just say a prayer at the chapel and ask for forgiveness. If all that doesn't work, we could always fall back on the dumb-Americans-who-don't-know-any-better scheme.





Seriously, the best apricots ever!







Here are a couple of video clips. I hope you're impressed I was filming and biking at the same time.
video video


About halfway through the ride, we came to the village of Spitz. In the middle of the village begins a hike up the mountain to castle ruins. For all of us, this was a huge highlight of the day. The castle ruins are really cool with many of the rooms and the main tower still intact. On the way up, Rob taught us about the different plants growing along the path. (Is there anything he doesn't know?) When we reached the castle, we had a great time exploring, and the kids pretended they lived in the castle back in Medieval times and each decided which job or position he or she held. Tomas was, of course, the king, and Liam was the chef/archer. If I were one of the village kids, I'd be up there playing every day. It beats a play set at a park hands down.





How cool is this? We could have stayed for hours and hours and then come again the next day.





After the castle, we hopped on the bikes and started up again under the false impression that we must be about halfway done. We biked through village after village, Rob and I switching off towing the ever-increasingly heavier Tomas and Sebi. And although it was a perfectly gorgeous day, it did seem to be getting warmer. The four older kids with their much younger legs were great troupers. The bike path also took a detour through the vineyards, which I'm sure were beautiful, but since I was towing, all I noticed is that it seemed to be all up hill. There were too many body parts to list that were beginning to ache. Every peddle, I was reminded that I'm an out-of-shape forty four year-old.

If I haven't already, I don't want to bore anyone to death with the details of the remainder of the ride. Suffice it to say, I wasn't sure we'd make it home before midnight, so only we passed and only glanced at some pretty cool things like the ruins of a castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned. If I ever do this again, I'll have to start at the other end and go backwards.




Sights along the way.









Only five and half hours later, we rolled on into Krems. The hotel owners were there waiting to pick up the bikes and told us the train station was just down the street. By just down the street, I guess they meant another 5K (or at least that's what if felt like after biking 40K and still feeling like I had a bike seat attached to my back side). Rob and I also realized that no one had eaten anything since lunch except for a few apricots, so we popped in to a convenience store, which was the only thing open, to grab a few things to munch on.

In Part I of this adventure, I mentioned that our train tickets were only good on certain trains. When we looked at the train schedule, we found there were no more trains that day going to Vienna. We had to take a train to another town, St. Pölten, and then catch a Vienna-bound train from there. Once in St. Pölten, we waited about 45 minutes for the train home. And the train home was not only a slow one, but the slowest one. The train stopped in every single podunk place and would sit at each one for ten minutes. There were even times when the train would come to a stop for no reaon we could come up with.

By now, it was getting late. Rob and I had been periodically calling Mary Ann and Katie with updates. Katie just laughed and felt bad this was how I was spending my birthday, especially when we had plans to go to the Sacher Hotel to celebrate with Sacher Torte. Since it appeared that we weren't going to be home until around midnight, the Sacher Torte would have to wait. I was having a good time anyway. The kids were tired but in good spirits, and I was tired enough that everything was funny to me. Rob exclaimed at one point, "Wir sind nicht in einem Zug, sondern ein Bügeleisen," which translates as "We're not on a train, rather an iron!" This may not be funny now, but sitting on a train in the middle of nowhere in the darkness wondering when we would ever start moving again, it was pretty hysterical.

Well, to bring this extremely long blog entry to a close, we did finally make it home, and the day, 44K (bike+hike) and all, definitely ranks up there as one of my best and most memorable birthdays.





44K for 44. What a great day! But as you can see, I was pooped!

July 21, 2009

44 for 44 (part I)





The fun begins (click to enlarge)







I turned 44 years-old. And just to make sure I felt 44, I decided to bike from the little town of Melk along the Danube through several tiny villages to the town of Krems.

I did my research and made my plan. The bike trip would be 40K and then additional 4K hike up to a castle ruin to reach the magic number. At first, I thought it might be a solo trip, but as the day approached, Liam decided he wanted to come, and wherever Liam goes, Tomas follows. Chloe, who wasn't interested in going earlier now wanted to, and the evening before, Rob called to say he and his three oldest would be coming. I was actually glad for the company because as you know from earlier posts, I'm an expert at getting myself lost.

We began by purchasing an "Einfach Raus" ticket, which translates as "Get out." For only 28 Euros, the kids and I "got out" of Vienna and could travel all day anywhere in Austria by train. The only stipulation is that you can only take the regional trains. This detail will figure later prominently into the story.

We hopped on the train around 9:30 a.m., and soon thereafter, we were passing beautiful green Austrian scenery. I loved the quaint homes in the little villages and gardens to the sides of the train tracks complete with garden gnomes. To entertain the kids, Rob played a game where they got a piece of Haribo gummi candy for each little chapel or hunting hut they spotted.

We arrived in Melk an hour later, and Chloe, Liam and I toured the Melk Abby, while Rob took the other kids to a toy store. We took a tour in English. You know when comedians or commercials do really bad impersonations of Arnold Schwarzenegger? That is exactly what our female tour guide was like. Arnoldina, as we affectionately called her, told us the Abby was founded in 1089, but it was in the early seventeen hundreds that the baroque features and additions were added. We toured several rooms, each lit in a different symbolic color containing artifacts. Blue is the color to remind you to listen to your heart, and in the blue room a creepy voice would say every once in a while say "Höre!" (Listen!). It reminded me of a funny part in one of my favorite films, "Delicatessen."




Outside the Melk Abby









After going through several colored rooms, we entered the impressive marble room. In the center of the room was decorative heating grate where Empress Maria Theresa would plop herself down when visiting because not only was it warm, but it had the best view of all the frescoes in the room. There's actually very little actual marble in the room. Most of it is faux painted, like what the pioneers did in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

Next came the library, equally as striking. We got to see a book over a 1,000 years old. It was also interesting how there were windows behind the shelves and the shelves could open inward to let in sunlight to read by since candles were not allowed in the library for fear of fire. They also had a modern art scuplture shelf that held silver tubes containing the speeches given by dignitaries at an annual conference. Arnoldina pointed out a silver tube containing the Dali Lhama's speech from a couple years back.

Finally, we entered the chapel. My first impression was "This is Baroque to the max!" Baroque is known for it's opulent use of ornamentation, and in this chapel, they didn't leave a single inch untouched. It was a visual overload. We would have needed a couple hours to really look at it all. We did our best, though. Just as we were about to leave, the bells started ringing for midday prayers. We stayed for a few minutes and got to see some of the monks of the monastery.

Baroque on steroids! On the left, you see Liam with a reusable coffin invented by Emperor Joseph II. In the bottom left is the modern book shelf.




As we came out, we immediately saw the others. The kids were playing, and Rob was taking pictures. Rob wanted some photos of the inside of the chapel, but you had to purchase a tour ticket to get in the front doors of the cathedral. However, we found a side door. We weren't sure if we were allowed to go in through these doors, but we figured we could always play the "dumb Americans" card if need be. We only got one dirty look from some lady but got in and out quickly.

We then made it to the bus station and ate our lunch out front while waiting for our bus to arrive. Stay tuned for part II.

July 19, 2009

Kråpland and the Stinky Cheese Man

About a block away from our apartment is the Naschmarkt, a popular market that has been going since the 16th century. Not only does it have the traditional produce stands, but it also has restaurants and a few shops. It's about a half mile in length, but on Saturday, it doubles in size with a flee market.

We've been to the Naschmarkt on Saturdays, but it's really just a gigantic garage sale. The only way you're going to find a deal is if you're willing to dig through a lot of stuff and deal with pushy people trying to bargain. There are times when I'm up to that but not this trip. Actually, we call the flee market portion of the Naschmarkt Kråpland. (We invented this word based on IKEA's kids play area called Småland. Another favorite is Pøttiland, which we use to ask if anyone needs to use the facilities while we're out and about. You just have to make sure to use the proper Swedish accent and inflection.)

We love the permanent part of the Naschmarkt. It's something we'll really miss when we get back to Utah. We've gotten some amazing produce and bread there. And there's so much that we're not going to have the time to try out.







On the left, Naschmarkt. On the right, Kråpland. (click to enlarge)












Liam is our family's big cheese lover. The stinkier the better. He was excited to find one of the shops in the Naschmarkt is named Käseland (Cheeseland). Katie took him there one morning to get some cheese. Liam knew exactly what he was after. He wanted a smoked Austrian cheese. The lady at the shop was more than help him choose one. She was very impressed by our young cheese connoisseur. We told Liam that when we get back we'll have to take him to Costco to choose some cheeses for the family.

Liam, the Stinky Cheese Man

Art, Art, Art ...And More Art!

Although Katie took her class to see all the major art museums in Vienna, I decided to limit it to three: the Kunsthistorischesmuseum (the Art History Museum), the Belvedere, and the MUMOK (Museum of Mondern Art). Katie used the very appropriate idiom "an embarrassment of riches" to describe the amount of art in the collections of each museum.

Before I give highlights of these three museums, I should explain how we typically go through a museum. Actually, it kind of explains how we have done practically everything in Vienna.

We always start out leisurely sauntering through the exhibits, taking as long as we want to fully take in each piece of art. We move from room to room until something makes us finally look at the time (usually our stomachs growling). We then become aware of how long we've actually been in the museum. We study the floor plan of the museum in the brochure and realize, "Holy cow! We still have over half the museum to go!" We then race through the remaining rooms stopping only to look at works of art by famous artists or works we have seen in books. It never fails; that's how it always happens. Katie has gone back to several of the museums for seconds, but I'm almost to the point of art overload. I've seen more art than you can shake an Austrian walking stick at.

The Kunsthistorischesmuseum is, by far, the largest and most extraordinary of the art museums. And, the building is equally impressive. In elementary school, I was fascinated by ancient civilizations, especially the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, so I naturally loved the museums rooms dedicated to these eras. As always with the museums in Vienna, everything was beautifully displayed from floor to ceiling. However, as mentioned earlier, I made the mistake of spending way too much time in these rooms. By the time I made it to the room containing one of the best Brueghel collections in the world, I was in a frantic state of madly taking photographs so I could study later what I had seen. If, or I should say "when", I return to Vienna, I plan to start with the Brueghels and work my way backwards.

In this collage, I've included a few of my favorites works of art. I loved the Vermeer, especially after seeing "The Girl with the Pearl Earring." I was excited to see the portraits of the royal children by Velázquez, which I have read about. Finally, the Brueghels were really cool. I liked them all, but his "Children's Games" made me smile.






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The next museum was the Belvedere. I had to visit this museum for two reasons. First, the museum is in a baroque palace built by Prince Eugene. Liam and I learned all about Prince Eugene at the military history museum. He's famous for beating back the Turks. Secondly, the museum has one of the best collections of works by Gustav Klimt. Klimt is probably Vienna's most famous artist, and his painting, The Kiss, is everywhere—and I mean everywhere.
And, you can purchase almost anything with the image on it, from mouse pads to mugs to toilet seats. (Well, I don't really know about the toilet seats, but I'm sure there out there.) It's one of those things you have to do. If you haven't seen The Kiss, you haven't seen Vienna.

The Belvedere didn't allow photography in the rooms with the art, so I only have pictures of the building. Katie covertly snapped a photo of Chloe with a Monet. If the Austrian authorities come knocking on our door, I'll deny I know them.





Since I Katie didn't sneak a picture of The Kiss, I had to swipe one from someone online. Don't two wrongs make a right? The photo doesn't really do it justice. It's striking.







One of our favorite things in the Belvedere were these velvet covered yoga balls. We hope they were meant to be sat upon. No one stopped us as we played on them. And what is up with the "Laugh In" room?







The final museum I visited was the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art). I thought I would really like this museum because I love the MOMA in New York, LACMA in Los Angeles and the MAC in Cologne. Well... I started on the first floor and worked my way up to the eighth. Just like I described above I spent too long on the first four floors. The exhibition on floors one and two was call "Mind Expanders." Ummm.....no. I don't think my mind was expanded by watching a video of someone lying on the ground with a box on his head coughing or a video of an extreme close up shot of some guys naked back side.

When I finally made it to the top two floors where all the famous works are, I had to rush around trying to find them all, but I was disappointed to discover several of the big works weren't on display. When I make it back to Vienna, I think I'll pass on this museum and try out the Albertina, which Katie loved.

Bringing the Monkeys to See Some Monkeys







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Last Thursday, I took the five pallies to the zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn) for the afternoon. On the subway trip there, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. It was a hot and muggy day, the kind of day that can make little people cranky pretty quick. Except for one minor scuffle between the two youngest, the kids were great, and we had a wonderful time at the zoo.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn is the oldest zoo in the world. The zoo, located on the grounds of the summer palace, was founded in 1752 by Emperor Francis I, husband of Maria Theresa, as the imperial menagerie. It was centered around the Baroque royal breakfast pavilion and had thirteen animal enclosures surrounding it like cut pieces of cake. The enclosures and the pavilion are still there today. The Baroque architecture and setting are what I loved most about the zoo. I could easily picture the royal family enjoying breakfast with the animals or strolling around the menagerie in all their imperial finery. Along with the setting, here are a few memories:

  1. I survived the day by bringing a sweat rag. I learned this trick during the two summer trips I made to Beijing. I brought a kitchen towel with me and got it damp at the zoo. I periodically would wipe myself down. Between this and hanging out in the abundant shade at the zoo, I had a pleasant day in the heat.
  2. The kids spent the longest amount of time with the seals and the penguins. Liam and Maddie would pick out two of the animals and do voices for them. To the younger kids, the "animal" conversations were downright hysterical. I thought it was amusing watching the kids have so much fun, but I just don't get 11 year-old humor sometimes.
  3. The zoo has some great animals. My favorites were the koala bears, polar bears and orangutans. The pandas, cheetah and leopards stayed hidden until the last minute. As we were leaving and the zoo was closing, they finally came out and we got brief looks.
  4. Liam and Maddie, still with Harry Potter on the brain after having recently seen Harry Potter 6, spotted a boa constrictor and proceeded to give the boa a missionary discussion in Parseltonugue. (see photo)
  5. For most of the afternoon, the kids were stuck on a song that they probably sang at least 100 times. Click here to see where they got the song from. Now, watch it 99 more times. Is it still funny?
  6. One of the few times when the kids weren't singing the above song was at the panda exhibit where the kids quoted "Pistols for Pandas." In the photo with the panda statues, the kids are all doing the "Pistols for Pandas" pose. I had no clue what they were doing until Liam finally showed me the internet clip this morning. So you're not left out of the fun, click here.
  7. In the rain forest exhibit (which I do not recommend on hot afternoons), there was a bat room. I assumed the bats would be in some sort of cages. We walked through the hanging curtain thing and entered a dark room with barely enough light to realize that bats were flying all around you. I had Will and Sebi clinging to each arm, fingernails dug in, and Tomas was holding on to my shirttail. As soon as the first bat whizzed past us, Tomas ran screaming from the room. The rest of us made it through. I know bats are experts at using ultrasound, but I still didn't trust them. I found it all a bit creepy.
After we had seen practically every animal there was to see, the kids had an ice cream treat and played at a play ground until we heard from Rob, Mary Ann and Katie that they were done with whatever they were up to.

I had a great time with my pallies. If we lived in Vienna, I think the family would have to get season passes.

Kirche am Steinhof--Katie's Future Home

The original plan for Saturday was to hike to a medieval castle. However, Mutter Natur decided not to cooperate. I checked online to see what the weather was going to be like, and it said a possibility of rain later in the afternoon. I figured we'd have plenty of time to make to the castle and back before seeing the first rain drop. Well, around 7 a.m. when I got up, it was piddling. By mid-morning, Vienna was hit by a hurricane. Yes, hurricane. I, too, didn't know hurricanes could hit a landlocked European country. But, I was there. Rain was pelting us hard sideways. This ended up closing the flee market part of the Naschmarkt early and trash therefrom was scattered for miles (or, kilometers for those of you who think metrically).

It looked like our day was shot, but then we received a phone call from the Mc's inviting us to go on a little outing to see the Kirche am Steinhof. We were hopeful the weather would clear up enough. The Mc's were visiting Schönbrunn, and when they got done, they would give us a call. At about 3:45 p.m., we got the call, and the weather had let up to a mild sprinkle with some wind, so we decided to go for it.

The cathedral is on the outskirts of Vienna. We had to take the subway and then hop on a bus. The total trip took about an hour, and just before we arrived at the bus stop, Mary Ann called to say the cathedral had just closed. They had arrived shortly before us and were in the cathedral for a couple of minutes when all the lights went out, and they were told the cathedral was closed. It turns out that the cathedral is part of the state psychiatric hospital complex, and since the cathedral is still used by the hospital and the patients, it is only open to visitors on Saturdays from 4 to 5 p.m. Well, phooey.

I still wanted to take a look around the outside of the cathedral. The Kirche am Steinhof is a cathedral designed by Otto Wagner, Vienna's most famous Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) architect. Since coming to Vienna, I have become a big fan of Jugentstil and wanted to see the cathedral. I decided to think of this as visiting an LDS temple where you just enjoy the outside of the temple and the grounds.

Up to this point, we've really only seen the city of Vienna. Just out of Vienna, it is amazingly green. The grounds of the hospital are beautiful, so beautiful in fact that Katie said when she finally goes nuts, she wants to be sent here. We, of course, are fine with that because we would love have to go to Austria to visit Mom in the loony bin. And since, I want to end up in the Vienna City Cemetery, we'll always be close.

Here are some pictures taken outside of the cathedral. You can't tell from the pictures how cold it is, but it's amazing how it can go from unbearably hot and muggy one day to winter conditions the next. Sounds like Utah, doesn't it?









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Here are some pictures that obviously aren't mine. I would love to see a Jugendstil LDS temple (or chapel at least).






















After we had a walk around and we're thoroughly frozen, Rob was very kind to buy us dinner at a restaurant across the street. It was a total dive but perfect. Great company and food to warm us up.

Melting in the Karlskirche

In 1679, Vienna was hit hard by the Black Plague. Before it's end in 1712, an estimated 76,000 people died. In gratitude that the plague finally left the city, Emperor Charles VI pledged to build a church dedicated to dedicated to the patron saint of plague sufferers, Charles Borromeo. (How would you like to be that one?) The ceiling frescoes in the dome of this church have just undergone 10 years of restoration, but the scaffolding is still up allowing visitors to go up for a close look (for a fee, of course). The Mc family recently went up and said it was kind of scary. This only excited Liam more.

After touring the inside of the church with audio guides, we took the elevator ride up to the platform. From this platform, there was a series of stairs leading up to the very top of the dome where you could look out the top about 230 feet up. There were times when climbers who stepped heavily would make the structure wobble slightly and make your knees wobble as well. The only thing you could imagine was the entire thing collapsing to the floor of the cathedral. It wasn't too bad, but I do know some people back home who would have peed their pants (and you know who you are).

For anyone coming to Vienna soon and considering doing this, my BIG recommendation is to go up to see the frescoes when it's cool. We went in the afternoon of a sweltering day, and in the tiny lookout at the top, it had to be 120 degrees Fahrenheit. We stayed as long as we could stand it, enough to snap a couple of photos, and then came back down dripping with sweat.

However, it was an amazing experience to see the frescoes up close, an opportunity you don't normally get. The thing that impressed me the most was how the artist had to paint the pictures with the perspective distorted so they would look normal from the cathedral floor. I wonder how many trips up and down the artist had to make to check to see if he got it right (and without and elevator).



The Karlskirche (click to enlarge). In the picture with Katie and the kids, we call that the "Time Out Box." We don't know what it really is, but it's a boxed in seat at the back of the church.








We liked the sign which said, "Running and jumping is life threatening! Screaming is UNCOOL!" The stairs lead up to the tiny look out. You can't tell, but Katie and the kids are about to melt. The painting of the dove is at the very top of the dome. The picture in the bottom left corner is taken from the platform looking down. I don't think it gives a really good idea of how high up we were.

July 17, 2009

When Is a Museum not a Museum?





I'll be dreaming of this for months to come.







Mary Ann took Katie to the Goulasch Museum (spelled with a "c" in German) three years ago for her birthday when the family was in Vienna and I was stuck back in the States at a new job. I remember Katie and Chloe excitedly telling me about it, especially the dessert. But somehow, I didn't pick up on the fact that it was not an actual museum. So tonight when we, along with the Mc family and the students, went to the Goulasch Museum, I was expecting to learn about the history of goulash, maybe see some fancy Viennese porcelain goulash serving dishes or Empress Maria Theresa's special goulash cutlery. I thought I'd even spring for a goulash cookbook in the museum gift shop. Well, as it turns out, it is just a restaurant. But, I was far from disappointed. Heck, you can learn everything and more about goulash from Wikipedia.

The Museum offers around twenty different types of goulash. I looked at the menu for quite a long time because when you don't know if you'll ever be back, it's an important choice. I ended up going with the pork goulash with spätzle. I can never go wrong with spätzle. Both the boys ordered beef goulash with potatoes, and Chloe had the Hungarian. Katie tried the Fiaker goulash, a goulash with big wurst cut into a flower. Katie's choice turned out to foreshadow an event to come later.

I think Tomas summed it up well for everyone when he told me, "I love this dinner. It's totally AWESOME!"

The best part of the meal, however, was the dessert. Drum roll, please... Chocolate goulash! Yes, chocolate goulash! It was so good I had to write it twice. This is homemade marble pound cake cut into pieces swimming in a chocolate sauce and topped with a dollop of whip cream. I think I need to figure out how to make this and introduce it to Utah.

The entire dining experience was pure goulash heaven!
If anyone reading this is planning a little jaunt over to Vienna, I highly recommend the Goulasch Museum.

After the meal, we went with the Mc family on a little Spaziergang around the city center. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any street performers who have lived up to the talent and creativity of the water glass player from our first night in Vienna. But, the walk was not without excitement. As our group of eleven was walking across the plaza by the Stephan Cathedral, we accidentally got in the way of a fiaker (horse drawn carriage). These things are outside practically every tourist stop in downtown Vienna. I don't know why they have so many of them since I haven't seen many people actually riding them. Anyway, we tried to get out of the way, and almost everyone did--everyone except little Tomas. We all yelled at Tomas to get out of the way, but this just confused him, and he walked straight into the oncoming horses. He went right in the middle of the two moving horses and escaped underneath one of them without a scratch. It took a bit for all of us to calm down. Tomas was especially shook up and glued himself to Katie for quite a while afterward. Katie still gets a look like she's about to pass out when she thinks about it. I debated writing this since I know there are grandparents who read this, but it's something I want to remember. The grandparents can be rest assured, though, Tomas is now within grabbing distance at all times.

Yellow Danube Waltz (I apologize)

I am way behind on blogging all the things we've been doing in Vienna, and I've been trying to write about everything in order. However, I'm not in the mood to write about another museum, and this is just too much fun.

Introducing...The Opera Toilet! You just haven't experienced Vienna until you've been here. This landmark is located at the Karlplatz subway station near the stairs leading up to the State Opera House. The Karlplatz station is probably the seediest station I've experienced in Vienna where the total dregs hang out, but on this end of the station, things aren't so bad.

We have walked passed the toilet many times, but we decided that tonight was the night we were going to experience it in full. Liam, Tomas and I actually used the bathroom at a cost of about a dollar each. We unanimously agreed it was worth the money once.

I know that taking pictures in an American bathroom can probably get you arrested, but I couldn't resist. Also, at the time we were in there, we were alone.





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From left to right:
  1. The piano next to the "Urinal Bar"--I was tempted to try it out to see if it really worked. But after noticing the general cleanliness of the place, I chose not to touch it.
  2. Although Liam accidentally walked into the women's side, this is as far as I dared to venture.
  3. I don't know what a 50's diner drive-in has to do with Opera, but I took a photo of this framed poster leading you to the "Urinal Bar" because one of Katie's favorite words lately is "pissoir." She doesn't like how the drunks here feel the world is their "pissoir."
  4. A couple of photos of the entrance to the toilet.
  5. Notice the stalls in the men's room are called "loges." I guess that in the women's it's boxed seating.
  6. I know it's gross, but I needed a close up.
To get the full effect, you have to hear the music. Enjoy the beautiful strains of Strauss' Blue Danube!

video

July 15, 2009

Beat the Heat

It seems that summer has finally hit Vienna. I'm not good at converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, but it's HOT. ...And pretty dang humid, to boot. To cool off, Rob and I took all the boys to the Kinderfreibad, an outdoor swimming pool that doesn't really compare to the Veterans Pool in Provo, but it does the trick. Best of all, kids get in free.









Click to enlarge. Don't miss Tomas' freaky eyebrows.












As you can see from the photos, the boys had a great time. Here are a couple cultural musings:

  1. Maybe the Speedo trend is finally dying out. There were only a couple walking around--much better than the last time I went to a European swimming pool. Other than a few small children, everyone used the changing rooms--also, much better than last time. The rash guards (the shirts surfers wear that we put on our kids to reduce the sunscreen applying time, which is always a pain) haven't made it here yet. The Austrians probably thought we're part of some weird religious cult.
  2. Only one life guard watched the two pools at a time, and they didn't blow their whistles all that often. I see two explanations. First, I've heard that Austrians expect parents to watch their kids (what a novel concept). Secondly, personal injury lawsuits are more difficult here. I have yet to see an ad claiming "One call, that's all!" I need to talk with an Austrian to discuss these theories.
The next time it's unbearably hot, I want to try the Alte Donau (the old Danube), where you can swim, rent paddle boats, etc.

Time Flies When Liam's Having Fun






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One day last week (the days and all the museums are starting to run together), I took Liam and Tomas to the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Museum of Military Museum). I know it's hard to imagine, but Katie and Chloe had no interest in going. The museum is a bit further afield, so it meant some real navigation on my part. I'm happy to report, however, we made it to and from the museum just fine, thank you!

If you know anything about Liam, you know that he LOVES everything about war. That seems really odd to write, but I mean that he loves reading military history books, learning about weapons and strategies, and finding out about the lives of military heroes. And, if you know anything about Viennese museums, you know that their collections are enormous. This museum covers, in detail, almost 500 years of military history. All I can say is that this combination meant for a very long museum visit. Since this is the one and only museum Liam really cared about seeing, I figured I would let him stay as long as he wanted. I'm not sure I expected four and a half hours, though. I think he might have been secretly getting me back for the four hour IKEA trips Katie and I have dragged him through.

As with all the other museums we've been to, the collection is housed in an amazingly beautiful building. With the exception of the WWI and WWII rooms (where Austria's history isn't so admirable), each room had ornate ceilings and lovely handcrafted display cases. Another selling point for me with this museum is that they allow you to take photographs and they offered free audio guides. Each room also had lengthy brochures covering Austria's military history during that period which made for good reading for Liam later.

After four and half hours of the museum, we've learned enough to blog about for four and half hours. But I will spare everyone and just share a few highlights.


This is one of those times when Liam and I were thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time. "Does this suit make me look fat?"









This is the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated and thus beginning WWI. We also saw the duke's bloodstained coat and couch he died on. I thought it might be better not to show those.









This is the German/Austrian flying ace uniform. I really wish this photo had turned out better. Click here to see why.










These are American WWII uniforms. They had uniforms from all the countries that fought in Europe.





When I first saw this plane from across the room, I pointed it out to Liam and asked if that was a Sopwith Camel, his favorite WWI plane. He quickly replied in a "well, duh" sort of tone, "No, Dad. That's an Albatross, and they were used earlier." I read the placard, and he was right. Smarty pants!








Out in the Panzer Garten, each boy chose his favorite tank. Of course, Liam could tell us all about them.