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The art of Vienna*

After taking in a fair share of dark history, when we hit Vienna I was ready to indulge in a little beauty. While I was in Salzburg, I had read something which said “go to Vienna for the art and Prague for the architecture.” Seemed reasonable to me until I arrived in Vienna and was so impressed with the beauty of the buildings. I couldn’t imagine Prague being more even more stunning, but that is a topic for another day.

The hop on/hop off bus tickets we had purchased had come with two additional attractions and a list from which to choose. My first pick was Belvedere Castle and it’s Klimt collection, reputed to be the largest in the world. I took the bus out mid morning and avoided any lines because of my travel “pass.”

The grounds were lovely but I headed pretty directly indoors, trying to avoid any crowds that might arrive as time passed. The museum itself was spectacular in terms of the decor and structure with high ceilings, beautiful floors and large windows, but I was there to see the Klimts and didn’t really pause for long. How were they? Completely as rich as you might imagine. You know I don’t know anything about art, but I felt a warm casualness about them. Not because they’re lacking in detail, but more due to the approachability of the works. To me, they tell universal stories and I just loved seeing them.

The next day I went to mumok, Vienna’s modern art museum. If I know little about art, I probably know even less about modern art, but I’m open to being educated. Because I overwhelm easily indoors with too much stimulation, I looked at what was “up” and opted to visit the 55 dates exhibit which had recently opened. The display featured 55 items from mumok’s permanent collection and I anticipated it providing me with a great overview, which it did.

There were some things which puzzled me, but that’s cool, while other pieces were mentally stimulating in a different way. André Durain’s Crouching Man particularly spoke to me, as did the Warhol’s of Mick Jagger. I felt pretty engaged by the display and continued my visit by checking out a political photography exhibit. Set up chronologically, it presented photographs which had contributed to the public understanding of political events and history. I wished the flow of the display had been more intuitive (at least for me) because I kept having to compare dates to remain committed to the chronology, but, that is a small complaint and probably my own fault anyway.

 

 

Vacation visual arts done. Next vacation post will be audible!

*just a smattering!

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History?

Terrace view

I mentioned that we had visited a number of historical sights during our July trip beginning with our excursion to Dachau. In Salzburg we took the funicular up to the ancient (700s!) Hohensalzburg fortress which was pretty interesting. The walk from the funicular stop to the very top of the hill was a good leg stretcher softened by a terraced cafe with a phenomenal view and a tasty local wine (gruner veltliner) cold and by the glass.

View from the cannon.

Liam and I split at the entrance to the fortress and went off on our casual, self guided tours. There was an animated presentation which provided an entertaining introduction to visitors, but I wasn’t there to take notes, I just wanted to walk around and take it in. I’d like to think I’m more an absorber than a consumer when it comes to travel. After about an hour of poking around in a mostly disoriented fashion, Liam and I met up and walked back down the hill to explore other parts of the city.

We planned a visit for the following day to the Salzburg Museum which had an exhibit about the rise of nationalism and Austria’s involvement with the Nazi party in the lead up to WWII. Liam and I thought that was a timely topic, so went to check it out. The exhibit was, as you might imagine, very dark. The items displayed told a story of complacency and resignation more than culpability and it bummed me out. Like I said, quietly dark. I couldn’t help but feel like our country is so fractured that we’re susceptible to the same thing these days. Dark.

Traveling in Europe, as an American, has always been an interesting experience. I’ve generally found that young people (those less than 14 or 15) were always very taken by Americans, loving our individuality and style, while those in the 20s and 30s looked upon us more as simple, irresponsible children. In my recent trips to Europe as a 50+ year old woman, the attention has once again morphed and it feels like I’m now being considered as someone who just might have something interesting to say. Maybe.Sitting in Charles de Gaulle airport, I didn’t feel interesting at all when the television displayed the president of the United States along with his tweet claiming himself as everyone’s “favorite president.” Mon dieu! His tweets make me long for the days of a maximum of 140 characters. The number of lies and exaggerations he fits into a single tweet are, as of yet, the only examples I’ve seen of his exceptionalism.

It’s a weird thing when you realize that you don’t have the words in English, much less French, to express how concerned you are about the direction in which your country is going or how much a display in an museum spooked you.

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Down by the river

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Salzburg’s riverfront

When I was traveling recently I was really impressed with the integration between city and river that I experienced in Salzburg and Prague. In both places the river was the center of the city rather than a divider and it felt very natural to make your way to the shore for walks, dining, shopping and art. So civilized.

We arrived back in Albany to a week of wet, humid weather. It’s been difficult to motivate myself to be active, but Jeter has gotten a couple of good walks and I remembered how much I enjoy running down by the river when the temperature is high. I’ve gone down to the Corning Trail twice the week and had really good runs, even with the humidity level through the proverbial roof, there’s always a breeze to be caught along the Hudson.

I couldn’t help but compare our Albany riverfront to the ones I really appreciated in Europe. People, we’re falling short…

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Prague’s Charles Bridge

In Salzburg, the river has a terrific running and walking trail, just like we do, but they also had a cool, independent market. It was a series of stalls and trucks offering unique items (most handcrafted), food, wine and coffee, fabrics and jewelry.  We could totally do something like that in Albany. In Prague the UNESCO site, the Charles Bridge, has vendors along its sides selling souvenirs, and art and there are musicians performing. Our Walkway could definitely host similar activities.

I’ve run down by the river for more than 25 years and I can tell you it is greatly improved in ways that the average person might not notice. On Friday, before I ran I had to use the portapotty and I prepared myself with a deep inhale of fresh air prior to opening that plastic door. It was unnecessary – the portapotty was remarkably clean. That’s new.

We’ve had some heavy rains and in previous years, the smell of the river after a storm that turned the water brown, would be downright offensive. There was a metallic, chemical odor that reliably accompanied the higher water levels, particularly, as you might imagine, across the river from the water treatment plant. The past couple of days? No odor at all. That’s better.

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Yesterday at the Corning Preserve

The wildlife down by the Hudson would have to be our greatest advantage over the much older, and better evolved, cities that I recently visited. I’ve had snake, bunny, woodchuck/beaver/mole thing, and deer sightings this year alone. Often they’re not really afraid of me and continue to nibble on the grass or stand at attention watching as I run by. It’s cool.

I spend a lot of my disposable income taking trips. It’s kind of a joke among people who know me. I’m sure I should be more conservative with my money and pour more of it into my house or my retirement, but traveling and seeing new things, even when they’re really old, is such a great investment. Seeing how other people do things is inspiring. 

What have you observed during your travels that you’d love to see replicated in your area?

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Murderous Dachau

 

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This is a replica gate. The original was stolen, but was recovered and now is on display in the museum.

Two of my sons are big history buffs. When we travel, more often than not, we visit places steeped in history, particularly 20th century wars. Our most recent trip earlier this month continued that tradition and we took in some intense WW II history in (or near) each city we visited. It’s always a speech robbing experience, which is why I’m only finding the words two weeks after we paid our respects at the first of our stops, Dachau.

483AEA12-9529-487E-A133-4501599FE841I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, Nuremberg and Anne Frank’s house and have seen things that are beyond my comprehension in terms of hatred and heroism. Dachau, though, was a whole nother level, as it was designed to be as the first and model example of a concentration camp. 

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One of the watchtowers.

Visiting Dachau is really easy, in terms of transportation, from Munich. It was a train and a bus all on the same ticket. The bus was packed with students and groups, but we wedged our way onto the first one and arrived at the camp in time to get in on one of the day’s English tours, scheduled to last approximately 3 hours.

Our guide was terrific – thorough, knowledgeable and a resident of the area whose own grandfather had been punished with a sentence at Dachau, yet survived to never talk about what he witnessed or was subjected to. He didn’t want to risk going back. Despite his Opa’s reticence about discussing his time imprisoned, our guide’s repeated use of the word “murderous,” revealed his deep understanding of the grounds we walked.

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Smoking forbidden.

The tour physically moved us from where the trains would arrive to the processing building, which offered displays and photographs to visually recreate what occurred in which area. The sleeping barracks were replicas, tidy and clean in a way that they never could have  been with hundreds of humans denied every basic need. It was horrific. The toilet and wash room bearing the load of so many…

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Only the foundations remain of the original barracks.

We toured a building which was the prison within a prison. Individual cells with perhaps a toilet, maybe not, and heavy wooden door with wrought iron bars. I couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than the chaos of the general barracks, but I imagine the lack of nourishment and the addition of regular beatings and other abuses probably swayed things to being worse, if that’s even imaginable.

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Haunted by how those bars may been bent.

It was a heavy day but, just like the large groups of German children who were there as a required component of their curriculum, it felt compulsory to me. If you’re in that area, I recommend a guided tour (minimal cost) and a walk around the small city of Dachau, if you can manage it. We didn’t have time but I would have been interested to see some of the city. It would have been nice to get a different definition for a quaintly pretty city that has been synonymous with death for decades.

 

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Introducing the doors…

Not the rock and roll Doors from L.A.* but the equally incredible and ornate doors of Austria and Prague. I couldn’t stop myself from pausing to capture photos of as many wildly beautiful doors that I came across during my recent trip. Check these out!

 

 

*maybe Roadhouse Blues came to mind for you too?

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Raindrops on roses 🎼

When I travel I try to keep my options open with regards to activities and attractions. My ultimate goal on vacation is to have unstructured time to explore my locale, not to have a schedule, so I generally book a single thing per day and fill the rest of my time with whatever happens to inspire me.

The impetus to visit Salzburg was my son’s fondness of The Sound of Music, so I reserved space for us on the Fraulein María bike tour, TripAdvisor’s #1 outdoor activity in Salzburg. Our tour began at about 9:30 when we met our guide, Kata, near Schloss Mirabell. She explained what we should expect (3.5 hours, approximately 10 miles and plenty of singing) and we began our adventure. The ride itself wasn’t particularly challenging beyond the fact that the bikes are heavy and the route unfamiliar. Our group was lots of fun and it was obvious that a number of them were big time fans of the classic movie, but, I believe Liam had them all beat when it came to familiarity with the story and music. He knew all the answers.

Frau, fraulein, whatever.

My own knowledge of the movie is scattered and I intend to rewatch it with my new perspective on what was accurate and what was mere Hollywood sleight of hand. The ride was a wonderful way to explore areas of Salzburg that we otherwise might not have made it to and I would definitely recommend the tour for anyone going to that beautiful little city. The ride isn’t overly difficult, but there are a couple of semi-challenging hills and bringing water is a must. You wouldn’t want to not be able to belt out Edelweiss due to a dry throat now, would you?

 

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Welcome to Vienna!

 

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Salzburg made me swoon. 

When we last saw our intrepid traveler she was in Salzburg, the little city which stole her big heart. Since then there have been two more cities, including one in yet another new-to-her country. Let’s pick it up with Vienna…

We arrived mid afternoon on Monday, following a scenic and comfortable train ride, and managed to find our flat without difficulty. After traveling with my son almost a week at that point, I knew to stop on the way at a grocery store for a couple of items, namely yogurt and another bottle of grüner veltliner. We quickly settled in and set out on foot to explore without any true destination, other than the ticketing office where we needed to collect out Hop On/Hop Off tickets which I had booked online. We went with the 3 option package which included 24 hours of the bus and two additional attractions of our choosing.

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There were so many blooms but these smelled particularly fantastic.

I left Liam in charge of navigation, something he really does quite well, and we meandered our way through the beautiful rose garden to collect our physical tickets near the Opera House. We seriously got on the bus at the exact right time because the skies just opened up and rain poured down. By the time we had done two loops, the rain had stopped and we felt a bit oriented. Time to walk.

FD9D5B65-EB36-44CB-8B15-F244EC607F01While my love for Salzburg is true, Vienna also had some very appealing characteristics. Again, the architecture is phenomenal with elaborate buildings complete with colorful flowers. We stumbled upon St. Stephen’s Cathedral and for the first time of the trip, I wished I hadn’t neglected to bring my Nikon. That roof! The gargoyles! It was just stunning.

627B08D3-C55F-44AE-BC81-46AA68EEE155We came upon some primo shopping with all of the high-end stores represented, and enjoyed walking on the pedestrian only streets window shopping. In every direction we looked there were beautiful buildings. We finally settled in at the Museums Quartier to watch as the sky put on a post-storm show that my phone couldn’t quite capture. We found our way to our Vienna home and turned in fairly early to ensure a first thing in the morning start for our only complete day in the beautiful city. We would discover that the tram, which ran directly in front of our flat, was quite an effective alarm clock, which was fine because we still had a lot to see. CBDF1BEE-0624-4E46-B652-DCDC5FA4652C

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