July 22, 2011

ELC Teacher Renunion

What are the chances? Three former BYU English Language Center teachers were all in Vienna at the same time.

Farrah, Josh (pronounced jōsh)*, and their daughter were traveling around Europe. Denisa and her husband, Bryce, were visiting family in Slovakia and traveling around. Through Facebook, we arranged to meet at the Stefansdom and then go somewhere for dinner.

Since I knew the city the best, I offered to find us a place to eat. I originally thought I could just pop into the AustroAmerican Institute for a recommendation, but I forgot it was Saturday. I then referred to our guide book, and I found a restaurant called the Hungerkünstler. Not only was it in the neighborhood where we lived the last time in Vienna, but the guide book said it had inexpensive Viennese fare. And with a name like "starving artist," I was sure it had atmosphere.

Well, I ended up taking the group on a little bit longer route to get there than I thought, but once we finally arrived, not only had the restaurant changed, it was also closed. Bummer. But, I knew if we headed off in one direction, we would be heading towards town, so there would most likely be something. However after many blocks of walking, I was beginning to get nervous. The only restaurants open were Chinese and Japanese, and everyone wanted something local. Then, I realized we weren't far from Cafe Sperl.

I had been to Cafe Sperl twice the last time I was here, but it was only for cake and hot cocoa. I had no idea if they even served dinner. We were happy to find they did

I told the group all about Viennese cafe culture, and that the Sperl was one of Vienna's most famous cafes. They have kept the interior exactly the same as it was when it opened in the 1880s. Cafe Sperl was once a hangout for famous writers, composers and artists such as Klimt, Schönberg, and Mahler. I've also heard it was one of Hitler's favorite cafes, but I don't really advertise that. 

It turned out everyone enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. It was a little on the hot and humid side with no air conditioning, but hey, that's part of Viennese culture. We also had a great time talking and catching up.

Farrah's in the middle and Denisa is on the right. The decor of the Sperl has changed little and

Tomas and Zoe, Farrah's daughter, were so good at the restaurant. Tomas kept Zoe entertained by being goofy.

Denisa, Bryce, Farrah, Zoe, and Josh (pronounced jōsh)

And here Tomas and I are with Grandma and Lori.
My vote is that we have regular ELC reunions in Europe. All in favor?

*Farrah and I found out we have both been pronouncing Denisa's name incorrectly for the past however-many-years we've known her, and we each had a different pronunciation. Josh then informed us that we've also been mispronouncing his name and that it's with a long "o" sound.

July 20, 2011

Kunsthistorisches Museum—A Whole Lotta Museum

This time around, we got a year pass for the Kunsthistorisches Musuem (Art History Museum). For only 29€, this is a fantastic deal. In addition to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, it includes five other museums. And to see everything these museums have, it could take a year. The only problem is that we're here only for a couple months. We will still get our money's worth, but maybe we'll have to come back before the year is up (yes, I know—wishful thinking).

I've been to the Kunsthistoriches Museum twice now, once with Katie and her class and once with Grandma, Lori and Tomas.  

As with most museums in Vienna, they blow me away inside and out. The buildings are always just as amazing as the exhibits.
Thanks to Playmobil, Tomas has developed a huge interest over the last year in all things ancient Egyptian, and the museum's collection is impressive.

Tomas knows how to "walk like an Egyptian." (Be sure to read that with the correct tune.)

And Grandma can "sit like an Egyptian."

For Grandma and Aunt Bita, Tomas was much better than the audio guide.
Since Tomas was with me both times, the visits were limited to only a couple hours each as opposed to going with Katie who'd be happy to move in. Here are some of the highlights of the paintings we saw.

Tomas found the Breugel's "Peasant Wedding." A print of this painting hangs in our apartment.

I didn't give this painting much time the last time I was here. It's Breugel's "The Procession to Calvary." However, Katie and I attended a screening of "The Mill and the Cross" at the Sundance Film Festival. It's a total artsy film that brings the painting to life. It was fun looking at the painting noticing all the details and remembering scenes from the movie.

These portraits by Velasquez are of King Philip IV of Spain, his wife, and two of his daughters. The top three paintings are of the same princess. She was promised at a young age to marry the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, Leopold, who was her uncle and first cousin. The paintings were sent to Austria to let Leopold see what she looked like. Too bad he didn't send paintings of what he looked like (see below). She may have want to reconsider. But, she probably wouldn't have been allowed to.

I always find these paintings by Arcimboldo fascinating (starting upper left and going clockwise: Summer, Winter, Fire, and Water). For having been painted in the 16th century, I think they're very modern and unique. Tomas' favorite is of course "Fire" with the guns and weapons.

I took the following photo of one of the rooms that was set up the way paintings used to be displayed in galleries. Paintings were grouped by theme and hung from floor to ceiling.

And here is a painting of a gallery from back then. All the paintings in the painting are actual works of art. Impressive, is it not? And, the Kunsthistorisches Museum owns most them.

I remembered the following painting from last time, and it is still my favorite painting in the museum. It was painted by Samuel van Hoogstraten, a pupil of Rembrandt. I love the look on the old man's face and the detail in the window and surrounding stone make it look real.

Here are Lori and Grandma looking at a couple of the many Rubens.

Lori liked the angel giving the gang sign.
I've seen this a couple times now where an artist is copying one of the masters. I know that's how artists trained in the old days, but I've never seen this done in an American museum.

I wonder how you get permission to do this and what the rules are.

This is Emperor Leopold I. Through inbreeding, he and several other Habsburgs were blessed with serious underbites. Leopold was married to Margaret Theresa, the princess from the Velasquez paintings above. I took this photo because it reminded me of my parents dog, Bella. She must have been descended from the Habsburg dogs.

You can't really tell from this photo, but it's the only one of Bella I have access to in Vienna. If she were to close her mouth, you would see one major under bite.
Well, that about covers the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I'm sure I'll go back again before we leave. So much art, so little time!

July 18, 2011

Schönbrunn Again

One of the first things on Grandma and Aunt Bita's to-do list was Schönbrunn palace. We had just toured the palace the previous week with the students, so Tomas, Liam and I took Grandma and Bita during Katie's class. Katie and Chloe then joined up with us later. While Grandma and Bita took the tour, the boys and I decided to walk around the grounds. The grounds are massive, and we've never had much time before to do much exploring.

We arrived early enough to have the balcony all to ourselves.

Tomas got the giggles.

Liam pretended to be emperor. His first decree—all-you-can-eat chocolate for all!

This is one of the many little gardens. I've mentioned before how the Austrians do not use all the weed killers Americans do. The lawn here is full of clover and dandelions yet looks pretty darn good. Since I basically hate yard work, this is more my style. If you click to enlarge, you can make out Tomas and Liam by the statue.

As we walked around, we came across a couple of fountains. This first one has an Egyptian obelisk. It was built in the 18th century when it was the fashion to have your own "ancient" ruins in your backyard. The hieroglyphs on the sides of the obelisk are supposed to tell the story and triumphs of the Habsburg dynasty, even though Egyptian hieroglyphs weren't deciphered for another 50 years.

These guard towers can be found all over the grounds. This one is next to the obelisk fountain. We always feel for the poor souls who had duty on the hot humid days.
The next fountain we found was made to look like Roman ruins.

And, if I ever have a yard big enough for such a thing, I would love a water feature like this. If something falls off or if it gets a bit overgrown, I can always say that was what I was going for.

We also discovered the imperial bird cage. We had to take a photo of this for Aunt Bita because of her unexplainable and total irrational deathly fear feelings towards birds. I read the plaque, and the birds are some sort of special pigeon, but they look very similar to those hanging around the courtyard of our apartment. Maybe they're related. It was really too bad we didn't have time to bring Bita to see the royal pigeons, but we made up for it later in the day.

Katie and I have often thought it would be fun to raise some chickens in the backyard. A cage like this would be perfect. But maybe on a slightly smaller scale. I'm not sure it would look so good to have a chicken coop taller than your house.

It was complete with a fountain. Nothing but the best for the imperial pigeons. You can see two of the pigeons having lunch.
When Grandma and Aunt Bita came out of the palace Katie and Chloe arrived. We took a few moments for some more photos, and then it was off to the labyrinths.

One of these will probably make the family Christmas letter.
Probably my favorite photo of the day.
Tomas has been fantastic helping push Grandma around. She decided to return the favor.
We had fun making our way through the mazes. However, they've taken out all the fun water features. By this time of day, it was warm enough that a squirt of water would have been very welcome.

(Click to enlarge) I like the photo of Liam ringing the bell. Notice Lori's hands underneath.
After the mazes, Lori joined the boys at the playground.

We saved the best part of the playground for last. Lori just "loves" birds, so it didn't take much convincing by her nephews to get her up into the contraption. "Oh please, Aunt Bita. You're our favorite aunt!" I thought I took video, but I can't find it. Too bad, it was pretty funny.

You can't tell from the photo, but it's quite the unstable climb to get up into the bird. And, I'm sure Aunt Bita loved it as I pulled on the ropes to make the bird flap and bounce up and down.
After the playground, Katie and Chloe went back to the apartment while the boys and I rode on a little train with Grandma and Aunt Bita around the Schönbrunn grounds and up to the Gloriette.

We had never been on the train before. I thought it was going to be really expensive, but since the kids and Grandma were all discounted, it wasn't so bad. I also learned and saw a few new things. First, the train station at Hietzing on the edge of Schönbrunn was made to be Emperor Franz Josef's personal train station, but he only used it once during the grand opening. Second, the post office on the edge of the property was once the guest house for the Emperor. And finally, the photo below is of the first public toilet in Vienna—done in Art Nouveau style nonetheless.

If we hadn't been on the train, I would have tried it out. I'd like to know how it compares to the Opera Toilet.
Well, you can probably tell by the length of this post that it was a long day. It was a good day though. And to end it, we went for ice cream at Schwedenplatz.

July 11, 2011

The Final Ride at the Prater

After a stroll through the Prater, we brought Grandma and Aunt Bita to the Riesenrad (Ferris wheel). This famous landmark was built in 1897 for Emperor Franz Josef's golden jubilee. To me, it's kind of like the Eiffel Tower in Paris—one of those touristy things you've just got to do. 

Grandma wasn't too sure and had a look of concern on her face. How did I not know (or did I just forget) that Grandma is afraid of heights? I told her there was nothing to worry about. This Ferris wheel moved very slowly, and you're inside this big stable thing that looks like a barn/train car to me—large enough even for her wheelchair to fit on. And if it's been around for over a hundred years, it's got to be safe, right?

This is the car right after ours. I couldn't get a decent shot of one of the special cars. For a fee ranging from €200 to €1,000, you can enjoy a candlelit dinner. Each time you go around, the waiter comes aboard with a new course.
We boarded the car, and Grandma was doing just fine. The car can hold up to probably 20 people, but  we only had three older couples with us.

You can do it Grandma. It's going to be fun!
The entire ride takes about 20-30 minutes depending on how busy it is. The more people there are getting on and off, the slower it is. As we went around, the other people in our car kept moving en masse from one side of the car to the other making the car sway slightly. Grandma did not appreciate this.

That's a very brave face, Grandma.
We've never been on the Riesenrad at night. It was fun looking down at  the park with all lights lit up.

A panoramic view out one side.
And the other.

Uh oh... Just as we were about to go over the top I turned around to take a photo and saw this.

Poor Grandma doesn't look too happy. In fact, she looks downright scared. It's OK, Grandma. We're halfway done.
When I was young, there was an amusement park we went to that called their thrill-rides "white knucklers." I didn't have a clue what the term meant, and my parents explained that when you held onto something so tight in fear, you're knuckles would turn white. I remember holding onto things as tightly as I could to see if I could get my knuckles to turn white. It never worked, and I never saw anyone else with white knuckles, either. Until now...    

Grandma was holding on for dear life, and that knuckle is actually white!
Well, Grandma survived. Barely. After a long look in the gift shop, she finally started to regain her coloring. Lori and I kept offering her a souvenir like a snow globe with the Riesenrad. Or, a key ring. Or even a potholder. But, it doesn't seem like she really wants to remember the experience.

We're so proud of Grandma and how brave she was. We went to Schwedenplatz afterwards for ice cream to celebrate.

Italian ice cream is the perfect cure for white knuckles.

July 10, 2011

At Your Own Risk

As directors of the study abroad program, Katie and I feel responsible for the safety and well-being of the students. We've taught them how to blend in so they aren't immediately picked out as tourists, we've given them cell phones so they have a way to contact us in case of an emergency, we've told them all about how to get on and off  the subway without losing a limb, and we've warned them about the seedier places of Vienna though it is a very safe city.

And most importantly...

I gave them ALL a stern warning about the bumper cars at the Prater, an amusement park that was once the royal hunting grounds.

We took the students to dinner at a fun restaurant at the Prater to celebrate the 4th of July. Afterwards, we sent them over to go on a few rides. But, beforehand, I told them my theory.

My guess is that it is not as easy to sue someone in Austria. If you choose to go on an amusement attraction, you do so at your own risk. It is my belief that most of the rides at the Prater were once in the U.S. Once everyone became so sue-happy in America, the carnivals unloaded their questionable rides over here—one being the bumper cars.

A few months back, I rode some bumper cars at Disneyland. They telling everyone not to run into other cars, and if, by chance, you did, you hardly feel anything. The Prater bumper cars are NOT those kind. I experienced this first hand the last time I was in Vienna and wanted the students to learn from my mistake. You can read all about it here. Be sure to watch the video and notice the look on my face.

Well, I should have known. Because I said something, most of the students made a direct beeline for the bumper cars. I warned, I pleaded, I prayed. In the end, there was only one thing to do...

Take pictures!

They're nuts! When some of them hit each other, sparks flew and the cars caught some serious air. If any of them end up with back problems later in life, they better not come whining to me. No sympathy here!
This is one of my favorite photos. You'll probably have to click on it to enlarge it to see what makes it so special. Look at Mariah's face on the far left.

See? Not only is this ride dangerous to your health, it brings out your inner demon. And, she's heading straight for Chloe!
In the end, the damages weren't too bad.

Oh, suck it up, Alicia. I told you so!
Here is a photo of the few smart ones who decided to stand off to the side at a safe distance and watch.

Proof that this ride was an American castoff. The names of all the states were painted all around. The students spotted Utah.
After the bumper cars, I thought the students had learned their lesson. But it wasn't much long after, I heard screams with an American accent coming from this.

Why? Why? Why?
 Luckily, they (and I) survived. Unfortunately, I have more gray hair.

Look at the terror on their faces, and you can't tell from the upper left photo, but they were all shaking uncontrollably they had to support each other to stand.
All I can say is that I hope no parents read this. I think it's time to take the students to a nice quiet museum.