August 30, 2009

Third Time's a Charm?

I told myself when I started this blog, I would post at least once a week. But, after documenting an entire month crammed full of Austrian activities, life back in Utah just hasn't matched up. Nothing has seemed worthy of writing about, and I don't really feel I'm a talented enough writer to make the small and mundane seem big and exciting. But what the hey, I'm back at it.

This entry is about pets. Over the past 20 years, our family has had six cats, two dogs, two rabbits, two hamsters and some fish. For the most part, we didn't go looking for these pets; they found us. It seems like we are magnets for pets in need of a home.
Since it would take several posts and many days to cover each pet, I'm going to just cover the dogs, which will then lead up to our newest addition.

New addition? Now, hold on! I know what some of you who know me might be thinking or even screaming. "Curtis! What the H-E-Double Toothpicks are you thinking getting another dog?! Katie hates having dogs. Didn't you learn your lesson after the last one?" Well, all I have to say to you is, "Read on."

Dog #1

Picasso, the Miniature Pinscher

About six years ago, an extreme dog-loving co-worker told me about an abused and neglected dog that lived in her neighborhood. The co-worker had been sneaking the dog food and water and was desperate to find someone to take the dog. Up to that point in our marriage, Katie and I hadn't owned a dog, and I had very fond memories of my family's dog, Tinker. I called Katie and asked if we could rescue the dog. As I remember it, Katie reluctantly agreed, but if you ask her, she'll tell you that I completely railroaded her into getting the dog. Along with the co-worker and my sister, Lori, who was visiting at the time, we went over to the house and
stole rescued the poor creature. The kids and I named the dog "Picasso" in hopes the name would help endear him to Katie. However, having a famous artist's name wasn't enough to win Katie over. According to her, Picasso was hyper, smelled bad, shed little black hairs all over the place, and barked too much. I, of course, only remember a little barking. The kids and I loved Picasso. The little guy tried so hard to please everyone. I loved how he would do "happy laps" around the yard whenever I came home. Another favorite memory was watching Picasso take Liam for a walk (and no, I didn't get that backwards). It was a seriously sad day for me when Picasso escaped from the backyard and was hit by a car. I cried as I held Picasso, and the vet put him to sleep.

Dog #2

Fu, the Chinese Pug

Even though I think Katie was genuinely sad about Picasso's death, she was relieved to be dog-free, so we didn't get another dog right away.
But like I said earlier, we're magnets.

Ever since seeing them in one of my favorite movies, "The Great Race," I have always wanted a Chinese Pug. To Katie, they are positively one of the sorriest looking things on the planet, but to me, they are cute and very comical.

One day, I found out I was about to lose my job. This was a rough period in my life. It was also during this time Katie struck up a conversation at a friend's wedding with the mother-in-law. Somehow, they got on the topic of dogs and the fact that the groom's aunt was looking to get rid of a pug. I think Katie must have been feeling very sorry for me and thought I needed something to cheer me up because it wasn't more than 24 hours later that we owned a pug. I named the dog Fu, which is Chinese for "luck," and Fu turned out to be the good luck charm I needed to get another job.

However, Fu turned out to be a nightmare of a dog. He smelled bad, he shed year-round, and he was the MOST hyperactive dog. I tried everything from dog training classes to exhaustive walk to neutering to techniques learned from the Dog Whisperer. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, worked. I even took Fu to the vet to see if anything could be done. The doctor said Fu had ADHD. I immediately asked if they made puppy Ritalin. The vet said there were medications, but he didn't really recommend using them and they were expensive. Bummer.

After putting up with Fu for a couple of years, I finally decided he had to go...and to a good home. I wasn't sure this was going to be possible. I couldn't believe anyone in their right mind would want this beast. But, my in-laws suggested I list the dog on classifieds. Less than a minute after posting the ad, I got a call from a woman who wanted the dog. Less than a half hour later, I had a waiting list of 20! The family that took Fu had always wanted a pug and loved hyper dogs. They even had another hyper dog for Fu to be friends with. We were very happy to see Fu go to this family, and I will forever sing the praises of

The one funny story I will always remember about Fu was when the secretary at the vet's office called and left a message on our answering machine to remind us about Fu's appointment the next day. It went like this. I suggest reading it out loud for maximum effect.

"Hi. This is a reminder that F. U. has an appointment to be neutered tomorrow. Please do not feed F. U. after 5 p.m. If you have any questions concerning F. U., please feel free to call the office. We look forward to seeing F. U. tomorrow!"

I thought, "How dumb could this lady be? Who would name their dog F. U." But then I thought about it, and I'm sure there are people who would.

Dog #3

Scooter, the Maltese

We said good-bye to Fu last January, so we didn't even make it a full year.

Shortly before leaving on our trip to Vienna, a student I work with asked if I would like his wife's dog. They were moving and couldn't keep him. I told the student I would love to have another dog, but I liked being married more. Two weeks after our return, I saw I had missed a call on my cell phone from the student. I had a strong feeling I knew what he wanted, so I didn't answer. But then, on a Sunday afternoon, I was caught off guard when the student called again. The student and his wife were moving the next day and still hadn't found a home for the dog. I was in the living room doing a pretty good job of declining the offer when all of the sudden, Chloe ran in from the kitchen saying Katie said we could give the dog a try. Of course, the student heard this and went in for the kill.

"He's really cute and well behaved. He doesn't shed, and he knows a lot of tricks. Could you at least take him for a week and see how it goes?"

I marched into the kitchen to see if Katie had completely lost her marbles. What was she thinking? She was glad we were finally dog-less, and now she wants to take another for a test run? But she truly agreed. And with no pressure from me, I might add.

So, Scooter the little white Maltese came the next day. Katie had to leave the house before the dog arrived because she couldn't handle the pressure of being the mean lady who doesn't like dogs that the dog had to impress. I also have to add for those of you who think I might have forced Katie into this that I made it absolutely crystal clear to the student if Katie had one reservation during the week, the dog was going back.

During the probationary period, Scooter
mostly had good days. There were a couple of moments like when he got into the bathroom and shredded toilet paper everywhere and when he and our cat, Chester, decided to duke it out. However on the seventh day, Katie finally said under her own free will and of sound mind that Scooter could stay. She's still not a big dog fan like the rest of the family, but she thinks as far as dogs go, Scooters not so bad. He's small, he doesn't shed, he can calm down, and he's pretty well trained. I'm still a little wary of looking really happy around Katie about having another dog because I don't want to jinx it--but I am.

However, I have but one thing left to say to end this incredibly long blog entry. The Isaak Hotel is now full.

August 15, 2009

Vienna Is History

Well, I did it. Our entire trip to Austria has been blogged. There are some things I never got around to writing about, but the big stuff is all there. 50 entries! I'm pretty amazed. I have never written that much in my journal. It's strange how I've taken to blogging.

Now that I've been home for almost two weeks, I've had some time to ponder on what I miss most about Austria, what I was happy to get back to in Utah, and what I want to do the next time I go to Austria. Below are the lists. Even though, each list could be quite long, I hacked away until I just had my top five.

Things I miss most:
  1. Public transportation in Vienna—I love how you can get anywhere in the city so quickly and easily.
  2. Architecture—In Utah, we have a few beautiful buildings, but in Vienna, they have an overabundance. I'm now a big fan of Jugendstil (art nouveau). I could spend hours and hours just walking around looking at buildings. (However, if we were to live in Vienna, I might invest in a GPS system.)
  3. Bakeries and cafés—I don't think I need to elaborate.
  4. The history and culture—Vienna has couple thousand years worth. Every day, I saw, heard, or learned something new.
  5. The LDS International Ward—We only attended a few times, but we really felt at home, and we loved being among so many people from all around the globe.
Things I was glad to get back to:
  1. Air conditioning—It could get pretty hot and muggy in Vienna, and a lot of places are not air conditioned. I love entering a building after being outside in the heat and getting blasted with arctic air.
  2. Kashi cereal—I really liked all the different kinds of muesli you can get over there, but I never did find anything equal to my Kashi Golean cereal.
  3. English—I did get some good German practice, but things do go faster when you're a native speaker.
  4. The Provo Farmers Market—It's getting bigger and better each year. Maybe it will rival the Naschmarkt.
  5. No smoking—Cigarette smoke really bothers my eyes, and I never got used to it. And there aren't many no-smoking areas to escape to.
Things to do when I go back:
  1. Art museums—There just wasn't enough time to do them justice.
  2. Other museums—Liam and I really want to see the funeral museum (we have this weird obsession). And, I just found out they have a chocolate museum. How did we miss this? They give out free samples! Next time, I am so there!
  3. Cafés—We only tried four. Wikipedia lists about 20 famous Viennese cafés. I would like to be more like the Viennese and hang out in the cafés for long periods of time. Katie and Liam want to play a game of chess in Café Sperl.
  4. Opera/theater—We were there during the off-season, so we didn't get to see anything. After touring the opera house, I would love to see a performance there.
  5. Spanish Riding School—The Lipizzaners were on vacation while we were there. Maybe next time.
  6. Salzburg—Two days in Salsburg wasn't enough. From what I saw, I loved it.
Well, there you have it. Goodbye, or auf Wiedersehen, Vienna. For now, anyways.

The Final Museum (Finally!)

On our final day in Vienna, we toured the Imperial Treasury. If we ever make it back, we'll have to come here again. Honestly, we were pooped-to-the-max. I think the only reason we went was to be able to say we did it. Tomas slept through most of it, and the rest of us walked through in a daze. I'm glad they allowed photography. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't remember a thing.

In the photo below, you can see the following:
  1. Baptismal outfit used for many of Maria Theresa's kids.
  2. The pitcher that held water from the river Jordan for the royal baptisms.
  3. The imperial Austrian crown
  4. The cabinet that held the keys to the coffins in the royal burial chamber.

Click to enlarge.

In the next picture, you can see the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire. The thing that looks like a purse is actually reliquary that supposedly contains the blood soaked soil from the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In the top left is a bible that was copied down in the court of Charlemagne, but the gold cover was added later. I remember seeing this stuff in history books in school, and it was cool to see it in person.

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It really is an amazing collection, and I'm sure there were some great things we missed. I'll just have to go again when my brain isn't mush.

August 12, 2009

Yes...I Did It

I don't know how many times I've been asked the same question whenever someone finds out I've been to Germany several times. "Have you seen the Disneyland castle?" Some people do actually know that the name of the castle is Neuschwanstein. However, this castle seems to be the only image of Germany many Americans, especially Utahns, have seen. But no...I have not seen Neuschwanstein. I've come awfully close, though. I was once only a few minutes bus ride away opting to visit another of wacky King Ludwig's castles instead. Katie and the kids have toured Neuschwanstein—Katie even twice. Can you tell I'm slightly bitter? When I tell people I haven't seen the castle, they give me a bewildered look like I went to Paris and blew off the Eiffel Tower or Beijing and skipped the Great Wall. I have vowed that the next time I set foot in Germany, I'm headin' to Neuschwanstein, and there ain't nothin' gonna stop me. Well, on our Vienna trip we were only a matter of a few hours car ride away, but we never did get a chance to make it to Germany, so Neuschwanstein will still have to wait.

The reason I tell all this is because at the beginning of our month in Vienna, we went to the Prater amusement park. In the park, they have a giant ferris wheel called the Riesenrad. It's kind of pricey, and we've been on many ferris wheels, so we decided to pass. We thought we would rather get a great view of the city by climbing the tower of the St. Stephan's cathedral. However, in the following weeks, I began to notice the the image of the Riesenrad was everywhere—on plates, on T-shirts, in snow globes, and on shot glasses. I knew then what I had to do come heck or high water. So, on our final day in Vienna, we made our way back to the Prater.

Click to enlarge.

The Riesenrad was built in 1897 for the golden jubilee of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The ferris wheel was severely damaged in WWII but was rebuilt. It has 15 gondolas that look like train cars.

We had a great ride, and enjoyed a fantastic view. It was well worth whatever they charged. (I can't remember how much we paid. I never did get used to the Euros. I was all like Monopoly money to me.) And now, if asked, I can happily say "Yes! I rode the Riesenrad."

But I'm still bugged about that stupid castle.


August 07, 2009

Sign Me Up!

I saw this sign in the window of a very expensive chocolate store while walking around downtown Vienna. I can imagine some amazing club meetings! Maybe I can start a chapter in Utah. But, no waxy fake American chocolate allowed!

August 05, 2009

Tomas Goes Shopping

Julius Meinl is a very shishi poopoo grocery store in the heart of Vienna. The store is beautiful and filled with fantastic gourmet items. It was fascinating going up and down the aisles of dark wood shelving looking at all the items. And that's all I was doing--looking--because it's a pricey place. I saw a small $15 bag of pasta (now, it was unusually shaped and striped in different colors, but still...) I did see a couple of rich Viennese women, though, who looked like they were doing their regular shopping and loading up their baskets.

The boys out front of Julius Meinl (click to enlarge)

Tomas in front of the chocolate section. Mmmm!

Tomas and Liam were with me, and they wanted to buy at least one thing from the store. So, I let them choose a chocolate bar. They chose a Ritter Sport, and Tomas put it in the kid size shopping cart he was pushing around. Tomas asked if he buy it himself, and Liam wanted to video the experience. So, I gave Tomas the money and Liam the camera, and let them go for it.

You can't see, but there's a group of grandmas just off camera delightedly watching. We enjoyed our expensive candy bar on the subway trip home.

Swimming in the Donau

Click to enlarge.

It was one of Vienna's hottest days of the year. We decided to join some of the students for a swim in the Danube. Now, I don't really care for swimming in any kind of natural bodies of water, especially a major European river where the water quality is questionable. But, it was so hot, and better yet, free.

I thought I would just float around on an inner tube and not get too wet. However, the students had a different plan. You can see in the top left picture what happened when several of the students did synchronized cannonballs all around me. After that, I thought "What the heck," and had a great time swimming in the river. We'll see what side effects develop.

As we were about to leave, a storm front was moving in and created an amazing sunset--a beautiful ending to the day.

The Quest

On a sweltering afternoon, three brave and daring knights battled their way up the steep mountain to conquer Burg Kreuzenstein. To reach the top, Sir Curtis the Rotund along with Sir Liam the Destroyer and Sir Tomas the Bear Child fought hand-to-hand combat against a hoard of evil dragon mosquitoes sustaining only minor injuries. They finally reached the top and stormed the castle.

Click to enlarge. Photography wasn't allowed inside, so we only have pictures of the outside.

We thought we were hiking up to tour a medieval castle. It was a castle, but the medieval part is only partially true. A castle was built on the spot in the 12th century but was later destroyed in the 30 Years War. The pile of rubble remaining was then used by the villagers below to build their homes and walls. In 1874, a count decided to rebuild the castle. He scoured Europe buying portions of other medieval castles and then put all the pieces together. It took him 30 years to do it. The count outfitted the inside of the castle with an amazing collection of authentic furniture and medieval objects. The boys, naturally, loved the rooms filled with amour and weapons. We were a little disappointed that it wasn't a real medieval castle, but as a museum, it was great.

Also, the part about the dragon mosquitoes is absolutely true. We were attacked by a swarm of thousands of mosquitoes and practically ran the entire way up the mountain. It was crazy! For the hike down, we found a road and only had to dodge the occasional car.

August 04, 2009

May They All Rest in Peace

If you've read my earlier posts, you know that I have an interest in cemeteries, crypts and creepy stuff like that, and Liam is following in my footsteps. Vienna seems to share this same odd fascination. The main cemetery in Vienna is one of the most amazing and beautiful places. Also, several of the cathedrals in town offer tours of their crypts. Vienna even has a funeral museum. We ran out of time and energy to make it to this museum, but it tops our list for next time.

During our final week in Vienna, Liam and I had a few things to do to wrap up our "Tour of Death". We had already toured the crypt of St. Stephan's Cathedral, where the internal organs of the Hapsburg rulers are kept and where they have a huge pit of bones where plague victims were thrown. We also saw the crypt at the Michaelerkirche. Due to climate conditions in the crypt, they've got preserved mummies. We went out to the Vienna's main cemetery and found the graves of all the composers and other famous people buried there (well, we didn't find one famous person, but keep reading). Liam and I also checked out all the skeletons in glass coffins on display in many of the cathedrals. These skeletons are supposedly the remains of Christian martyrs brought back from Rome. All in all, it's been quite fun.

First, we set off to see the Augustinerkirche (St. Augustine's Cathedral). This cathedral is part of the Hofburg, or Hapsburg winter palace. Many royals were married here such as Maria Theresa, Napoleon, and Franz Joseph. However, what interested Liam and I is that the hearts of all Hapsburg rulers are kept here in urns. Unfortunately, you can only see them by appointment on Sundays after mass. I was a little surprised the church is missing such a great moneymaking opportunity. Oh well, we just had to be satisfied with being in the cathedral. It does have an impressive tomb for Maria Theresa's favorite daughter, Maria Christina, although she's not buried here.

Augustinerkirche (click to enlarge) In the bottom right you can see the room where the hearts are kept. You can also see Maria Christina's tomb.

Next, we made our way over a few streets to the Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin's Cathedral). In my opinion, this is one of the most unimpressive cathedrals in Vienna. However, what we came to see lay beneath. Under the cathedral is a massive crypt where 143 Hapsburg royals are buried minus their hearts and internal organs. The metal coffins range from over-the-top rococo to very plain. The most elaborate was the double coffin for Maria Theresa and Franz I. Her frugal son, Joseph II, had probably the most simple coffin. Liam and I wondered why they didn't use one of his famous reusable coffins for him.

Kapuzinerkirche--The coffin for Maria Theresa and Franz I is bottom left, her frugal son, Joseph II, is next to her on the right. Franz Joseph is top right, Joseph II, and his wife, Sisi, is below him to the left.

Finally, we had one stop left. Early one morning around 6:30 a.m., we took the subway and then a street car back to the main Vienna cemetery. On our first visit, we found every famous grave but one--Falco. In the eighties, Falco had a couple of pop hits in the US. Although I never bought any of his records, I did like his songs and videos that were played on the radio and MTV. Coming to Vienna, I introduced Liam to Falco, and he also became a "fan". Falco's song "Vienna Calling" even became our sort of theme song during our month stay in Vienna. We found ourselves singing it everywhere--waiting for a subway train to arrive, hiking up a mountain to a medieval castle, or touring crypts with preserved mummies. We would supply our own lyrics for those we didn't know.

At the subway station near our apartment is a stairway and landing dedicated to Falco. The sign says: "Falco Steps, 'Falco' Hans Hölzel (1957-1998), Pop singer, topped the international charts in 1986 with 'Rock Me Amadeus.'" Having seen this sign for almost every day for a month, we knew we had to find Falco.

Having looked online beforehand to know where Falco was buried, we found him pretty easily. As we approached section 40 of the cemetery, we noticed we were not alone (remember, it's about 7 a.m.). Standing in the middle of the section was a man with a fancy camera and tripod taking photos of a grave. We soon found out that he was at Falco's grave. Once he finished taking pictures, we approached. We took some of our own pictures, and then the man approached us. It turns out the man is from the Czech Republic, and let's just say, he's a hardcore Falco fan. He told us that he comes to Vienna once a year to pay his respects. He also brought a gift this time, a large decorated gingerbread heart with some Czech words on it. I later plugged the words into Google Translator, and they came up as "Falco is a god." The guy seemed really excited that there would be other dedicated Falco fans at the grave. He began asking us about different songs and telling us about what Falco meant to him. He even knows all about Falco's mother, who isn't doing too well, by the way, due to a stroke. However, I don't think Mr. Hardcore Fan was very impressed when he quickly discovered that we weren't serious fans and only knew three Falco songs. Actually, I think he might even have been a little sad. Oh well. It was all starting to give Liam the creeps, so we finished our photo shoot and quickly departed to go have breakfast.

Falco, you gave us many minutes of fun and entertainment in Vienna!

And one final note to those who know me well. The answer is "No." If Annie goes before me, I will not be making yearly pilgrimages to England, where I assume she'll be buried. If I just happen to be over there, I might pop by, but I can assure you I will not have a gingerbread heart.

August 03, 2009

My Kind of Culture!

In an earlier post, I wrote about Viennese Café culture. Cafés can literally be found all over Vienna. At a Viennese café, it is completely normal for customers to stay for hours talking, reading a newspaper, playing chess, or whatever. I am a huge fan of this "hang-out" tradition, and even though I know the idea would never fly, I wish we had a few Viennese-type cafés in Provo.

During our month in Vienna, we got to try out four well-known cafés. Unfortunately, we never really had the opportunity to linger for hours in true Viennese fashion. We were either off to do some more sightseeing or had kids to get back to. Here's the run down.

Café Sperl

click to enlarge

Rob introduced the boys and me to Café Sperl near the beginning of the month, and we took Katie and Chloe to try it out a few weeks later. Café Sperl is one of Rob's favorites. The café has old world charm and is very gemütlich (comfy, cosy), kind of like a living room for everyone to enjoy. According to Rob, many famous writers, composers and artists frequented Café Sperl. I can totally picture Rob around the turn of the century sitting around with some of these people discussing and debating stuff for hours.

When I returned with Katie, I had the apricot torte because the apricots I tried on our Melk bike trip were the best. Katie had Salzburg cheesecake, and the kids all had Sachertorte.

We loved our cake and the ambiance. The only drawback was that it was a hot day, and the place isn't air conditioned. You'll notice in the picture that we are the only people in the café. Everyone else was sitting at an outdoor table. We thought since this might be our last chance to try it out, we wanted to experience the inside. So even though the ganache on the Sachertorte was melting off, it still tasted good.

Sacher Café

Now that's what I call birthday cake!

I wrote all about Café Sacher when Katie, Rob and Mary Ann and I came here for my little birthday celebration. The Sachertorte was probably the best birthday cake I've ever had. My personal belief is that you haven't had Sachertorte until you've had it here. It's also a very classy joint, from the beautiful decor to the snappy waiters. Katie said that Sacher surpassed all her expectations and she enjoyed the gentil and calming atmosphere.

Café Landtmann

"I'll take one of everything in the case, please."

Café Landtmann is one of Mary Ann's favorites. She took Katie and Chloe one afternoon, and Katie returned with me later. A lot of famous people came here, too. Freud being one of them. The inlaid wood paneling interior was stunningly beautiful. Katie described the café as having old gentrified charm. Near the entrance is the dessert display case. Ooh la la! Everything looked amazing, and I really loved the flat screen TV on the wall showing how they make the cakes and pastries. Katie loved her choclate truffle cake, and I had an amazing dessert called a Beerenstanitzl. It's a waffle cone dipped in chocolate (real chocolate not the waxy stuff we have in the US) filled with sponge cake, white chocolate mousse, and fresh berries. Yum-to-the-max!

Café Central

"Too much cake, so little time!"

With only a couple days left in Vienna, we finally made it to the Central. I think we just may have saved the best for last. Everything about this place was "wow". The cake I had was named after writer, Peter Altenberg, who came to Café Central so much, he had his mail forwarded there. Katie descibes the café as "an over-the-top experience of eating cake in a cathedral." Instead of describing it in words, I'll let the pictures and these video clips show why I loved this place.

*Note to Opa and Oma-Do you recognize the song the pianist was playing in the first clip?

So, as you can see, I can highly recommend all four cafés. But if forced to choose, my favorite has to be Café Central and Katie's is Café Sacher. However, each one is great depending on the mood you're in. I just hope we get the opportunity to go back to Vienna. Not only would I like to visit these cafés again (Katie and Liam want to play a game of chess at Sperl), but I just looked on Wikipedia and they list 20 other well-known Viennese cafés I didn't know about.

August 02, 2009

We Need Helga!

My dad calls her the witch, but we refer to her affectionately as Helga. Helga was the voice in the GPS system we used on our little weekend getaway to Salzburg and Dorfgastein. Except for a little confusion in Salzburg, she helped us get where we wanted to go. She decided the best route to take. We were thinking how nice it would be to have a Helga for all our decisions. Well, maybe not the major ones. We should still probably handle those. But, I'm talking about the decisions like:

"What do you want to do tonight?"
"Oh, I don't know. What would you like to do?"
"Whatever you want to do is fine with me."
"I don't care either. Whatever you want."

Oh, how I hate these conversations. They are such a waste of time. There have been times in our marriage where because of indecisiveness we haven't ended up doing anything. These are the times we need Helga. Really, I don't care that much which movie or restaurant we go to. Helga can decide. There are a whole bunch of other decisions Helga could help with ranging from which tie I should wear to work to should I eat Nutella or jam on my Austrian roll. If, afterwards, we regret a decision, we just blame Helga. She won't mind. She can take it.

Helga, we miss you!

August 01, 2009

Austrian Weekend Getaway (Part VI-Hallstatt)

The Halstatt Salt Mine (click to enlarge)

On our drive back to Vienna, we decided to take a little detour, with Helga's help, of course. We drove through the Salzkammergut mountains to the picturesque village of Hallstatt. The village lies on the tiny strip of land between the shores of a lake and a mountain that jets straight up. Until the late 19th century, you could only get to this village by boat or trails. Archeological finds date back to 5500 BC, and the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We decided to take a tour of the world's oldest salt mine on the mountain high above the village. I've toured other mines before, and I expected it to be somewhat similar. Therefore, I was completely shocked by the tour price. But, since there's not a whole lot of other things to do in the village and who knows if we'll ever be back this way again. We said, "What the heck."

You begin by taking a funicular ride to the top of the mountain. This alone was almost worth the price of admission. The view was spectacular. After arriving at the top, you go on a little hike up to the entrance to the mine. Along the way, there are markers that tell you the history of the mine and the people that lived in the area thousands of years ago.

We reached the building at the mine entrance and were given these attractive outfits to put on over our clothing. The outfits were like long-sleeved scrubs made out of heavier fabric with suede backsides. Take a look at our picture dressed in these outfits. Now, look at other pictures of Katie. Yes, that's right. These outfits went over your clothing, and Katie's wearing a dirndl. This is actually one place where we didn't see any Austrians wearing dirndls. Hmm...

As the tour began and we headed down the mineshaft built over 50 years before the US was a country, we soon realized that they had us wear the outfits because it was cold. The suede backsides to the pants came in handy as you slid down slides to get from one chamber to another.

The tour was informative and entertaining but at the same time a bit odd. They had added Disney-esque features to the mine--lasers, music, movies, and even animatronics. It was hard not to laugh as we walked down this very long mine shaft hearing mysterious voices to new age music whisper "Salt...Life from the rocks!" and "Time...and all eternity!" In one chamber, they did a laser show to Enya-like music of petroglyph designs found in the area. And one of the final chambers had an animatronic miner who told the story of some prehistoric guy they found who was preserved in salt. Whatever dialect he spoke was so thick, I only got one out of every ten words. Good thing they had a screen behind him with Engish subtitles.

When the tour ended, we straddles these wooden benches and were towed on out of the mine. Overall, we had a blast, and for this one time, it was worth the small fortune our tickets cost.

Here are a few interesting things I learned:
  1. St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners. When her father found out she had been baptized, he chopped off her head. He was then struck dead by lightning. She was 29 when she died, so miners' coats have 29 buttons, and they leave the top three undone.
  2. Way back when, the miner's life was difficult, to say the least. The average lifespan was 42. The men lived up at the mine on top of the mountain and only came down for weekends. Women also helped by hauling salt down to the town (and they didn't have the funicular back then).
  3. Beginning in 1846, Johann Ramsauer discovered a large prehistoric cemetery on top of the mountain. Over 20 years, he unearthed over 1,000 graves. He was very methodical measuring and drawing each grave. Many of his methods are still used by archeologists today.
Here is a video clip of Katie and Liam sliding down one of the slides in salt mine on their suede backsides. I didn't get more pictures and video inside because my camera battery died.

After the mine, we had a wonderful traditional Austrian dinner at a restaurant on the lake. A perfect way to end our weekend getaway.

Great food, great location, great family, great vacation!

Austrian Weekend Getaway (Part V-Mass)

Church in Dorfgastein (Click to enlarge)

The nearest LDS chapel from Dorfgastein was an hour away, so we decided to attend Catholic mass at the little village church. And, it was an absolutely gorgeous morning.

We attended a mass composed by Mozart at St. Stephen's in Vienna at the beginning of the month, but this was different. This area of Austria is still very traditional. The men and women (mostly older) clad in their Trachten (traditional Austrian costumes such as lederhosen and dirndls) still sit on opposite sides of the aisle for mass. This turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Katie to wear the dirndl she picked up in Vienna. She fit right in. The boys dressed in matching outfits got many smiles from all the Austrian omas and opas.

The service was very sweet, and the message the priest presented is an important one. He spoke about how it doesn't matter what or how great the talents or gifts you have been blessed with. What matters is that you put your faith and trust in the Lord to help guide you to use these gifts to bless others. I also loved their little choir, which was very much like some of the ward choirs I've sung with--some very interesting and dominating voices.

After the service, we headed outside and noticed that all the men lined up on one side of the street and the women on the other for socializing. We then headed back to the Haus Tirol for a lunch of Austrian bread and the cheese we bought on our hike up to the Strohlehenalm.

Austrian Weekend Getaway (Part IV-Salzburg)

Saturday afternoon, we drove to Salzburg. We had three things to check off our list: 1) take a tour of Hohensalzburg Castle, 2) walk through the Salzburg Cathedral, and 3) eat pizza at the Residenz Fountain. Not only did we do these three things, but we got an extra bonus to finish off the evening.

We began by heading to the Hohensalzburg Castle. Once again, we relied upon Helga, our GPS lady, and she's been pretty reliable. Until now...

If you are familiar with most European towns, they center around a castle or a church and were built before the invention of the car. The closer you get to the center of town, the narrower the roads get. The Hohensalzburg Castle is on top of a hill smack dab in the center of Salzburg and the Salzburg Cathedral is right at the base. As we approached the center of town, Helga directed us to turn down a very narrow road that looked to me to be one way and the opposite direction from what we wanted. We argued and argued with Helga, putting in different landmarks as our destination, but Helga stood her ground. Reluctantly, we decided to follow her directions. So, I turned onto the road (lane, path, alley, or whatever), and the further we went, the narrower it got. Helga directed us to turn onto other little windy roads that went up and down and all over that hill which is covered in buildings older than our country. It's a good thing we were in a small car because we had to go through a couple archways where I drove through very slowly hoping not to scrape the sides of the car. Finally, we came to a fork in the road. Helga wanted me to drive up the road that went up a very steep hill. My nerves had had it. I wasn't even sure if I was heading the right way on this one way road. If any car had come heading my way, there would have been no way I could have been able to back it down the mountain. I was almost to the point of getting out, locking the car, calling the car rental place to tell them where they could pick up their car, and walking to the train station. Katie offered to walk down the other road to see if she could figure anything out. Luckily, while she was gone and the boys and I sat waiting in the car, no other cars came. When Katie returned she thought she found a solution, and if it didn't work out we would activate Plan B (play dumb American tourists). We took the small, cobble stoned road heading downhill which then led to an area which I'm sure was a pedestrian zone. We slowly budged our way through mobs of tourists looking every where but where they were going and amazingly enough, ended up on a real road, from which we were able to find a parking spot. Hallelujah!

I'm glad this harrowing experience didn't foreshadow things to come because the rest of the day was fantastic.

First, we took the funicular up to the top of the hill to tour Hohensalzburg Castle. I can't remember, but Katie says this castle appears in the opening of The Sound of Music. Construction of the castle began in 1077 with later archbishops of Salzburg adding to it.

Outside Hohensalzburg (click to enlarge)

And inside.

Item one? Check! We then went down the hill to the center of town to see the Salzburg Cathedral, a 17th century baroque cathedral where Mozart was baptized. When we walked into the cathedral it was completely packed. Some sort of performance was going on with two different choirs, an orchestra, and an organ. Because of the performance, we didn't get to walk around very much, but the beautiful music in that amazing setting was well worth it.

Here is a little video clip of the finale by the combined choirs, organ, and orchestra. I know we have some nice venues in Utah, but this really was spectacular.

So now, we've checked off two of the things on our list. We now only had to eat pizza at the Residenz Fountain, the fountain that Maria and the Kids ride their bikes around singing in The Sound of Music. This is a tradition begun by Katie and the kids the last time they were here, and Liam wanted to do it again. However, before we got pizza, we couldn't resist the chocolate pretzels, so we had dessert first.

Chocolate pretzels...Yummm!

Here we are eating our pizza at the fountain.

We found out later that the fountain had just gone through a major restoration project and the scaffolding was removed just the day before. And no, we did not sing "Do-Re-Mi" at the fountain--a few too many tourists about.

After pizza, we decided to head back to Dorfgastein. As we began our walk to the car, we started to notice that there were sure a lot of people wearing lederhosen and dirndls wandering about. Most of my German-speaking culture experience has been in northern and central Germany, where they make fun of the Bavarians and Austrians for wearing this traditional clothing (kind of like me growing up in California who thought Utahns and Idahoans who wore cowboy hats, boots and Lee jeans were hokey). And it wasn't just the older people wearing the outfits. Entire families were decked out. I slyly took a couple photos.

Then I found out what was going on. I noticed a crowd control barrier in place around the fountain and an orchestra beginning to set up. I also saw a woman who looked like she was staking out a spot. I decided to go ask her what was going on. It turns out she's a US citizen who grew up in Austria, and she told us tonight was the Fackeltanz (Torch Dance) which kicks off the annual Salzburg Festival, Europe's largest opera, music and theater festival. The lady told us the Fackeltanz is a set of traditional dances done at night by 100 couples with candles. She said we had to experience it and invited us to join her and her family.

The Fackeltanz began at 10:30 p.m. and was so worth the wait and the fact that we would be getting back to Dorfgastein around 1 a.m. Here are some video clips I took with the digital camera. The quality is pretty poor, but you can get the idea.

Before the finale, children went among the audience and gave all the women a rose. Katie got a beautiful yellow and orange rose. Then, after the finale and all the dancers have tossed their candles into the fountain, the audience rushed the fountain to grab a candle. I lifted Liam up to grab a couple. I don't know what the boys will do with these souvenirs, but they were excited to get them.

The little girl who gave Katie her flower.

Katie with her rose and the boys with their candles.

(click to enlarge)

Now, did you notice that the dancers were using real candles? Even the orchestra used candles to see their music. I know I've blogged it before, but I'm going to blog it again. Austrians just aren't as lawsuit happy. In the US, this would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. Everyone would be so worried that the dancers would use battery powered lights, which definitely does not have the same effect.

Our day in Salzburg was sure wonderful. I hope we get a chance to go back some day. I think Christmas time would be especially nice.