Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 11 / Schonbrunn



GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
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Part # 11 / Vienna - Schonbrunn Palace

Schonbrunn Palace / Main Center Front
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Our overnight stay at our hotel in Vienna had come to an end as we repacked our belongings, cleared out our rooms, and met downstairs in the lobby for a light breakfast.  The hotel had agreed to allow us to store our luggage at the hotel so we could continue to explore the city before our train was due to leave for back home to Bavaria later in the afternoon.  I had to hand it to Wendy, who had done a fantastic job with the itinerary of our trip.  She had really maximized our short weekend in the city by scheduling a series of amazing historic sites within our limited time frame in Vienna.  First on tap this morning was boarding the now familiar U-bahn subway to visit the famous summer palace of the Hapsburg Dynasty known as Schonbrunn.  Again, I had no idea what to fully expect, having only a free city map from the train station, which showed the location of the palace and a small picture.  The subway emerged from the underground darkness into the light of the surface.  Apparently the trains of Vienna run both above and below ground depending which direction you are headed.  It seemed the subway emerged on lines that ran outside the city's congested center.  Our train arrived and we walked along a long wall towards the front gateway (Map-I) of the popular palace.


Schonbrunn Palace and its accompanying imperial gardens were first opened to the public in 1779 by Queen Maria Theresia.  As with many magnificent palaces I have visited in Germany and now Austria, Schonbrunn began as a simple recreational location for the sport of hunting for the select members of the royal family and imperial court.  Originally known as the Katterburg Estate, the royal family acquired the rural property in 1569 for its close proximity to Vienna's forest.  In 1612 a spring fountain was discovered on the estate that provided the property with fine spring water, which was so pure, it was bottled for consumption for the Hofburg Winter Palace in the center of Vienna.  The spring was called Schones Brunnl, and would eventually give the grand palace its namesake.  The first constructed house of leisure was almost completely destroyed by the Turks in 1683.  The remaining foundation was soon razed to make room for a new grand structure to be built as a monument worthy of emulating the power of the Hapsburgs.  Over time, the main palace expanded to include over 1440 rooms to house 1000 people of the royal family and the entire royal court who resided there during the warm months of summer.

  Naiad Basin / Lilly Pad Fountain (13)
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The massive gardens were so impressive and rather than go on the interior tour of the palace, I went rogue and decided to take the full time of our visit to explore the palace grounds to the rear of the structure.  I walked through the center-arched passageway under the main palace to stand at the extreme edge of the expansive imperial gardens.  The entire site encompasses 436 acres and is more than a half square mile in physical size.  Once again, to our great fortune, it was once again a beautiful sunny day.  Off in the distance on top of a hill was a structure known as the Gloriette (Map-8), which looked down over the palace grounds and appeared to be square with the palace's center.  If time permitted, my goal would be to try and reach the Gloriette to see the view offered of the palace grounds below.  First, I ventured to the left, with every turn in the pathway revealing one garden display after another in full bloom.  There were ornate statues, elaborate fountains, groomed gardens, flower lined pathways, and sculpted shaped shrubs.  I walked at a brisk pace all the way to an impressive fountain spring known as the Obelisk (Map-9), which denotes the history of the Hapsburg Dynasty.  


 Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens Map
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Keeping my goal of climbing the large hill to reach the Gloriette (Map-13) in mind, I headed back to the east and passed a large fountain of mock Roman Ruins (Map-12) known by the same name.  I took in the view of the expansive center area known as Schonbrunn Park (Map-6) looking toward the center facade of the palace.  The climb was steep and the sun hot so I took a turn to enter a side road (Map-26), which provided shade from the heat of the sun overhead.  I imagined this was what much of the area resembled when the estate was originally used mostly as hunting grounds.  I came to a crossroad intersection and turned east once again to angle my climb toward the Gloriette, which was completely hidden from view.  I had no idea of my position in relation to the top of the hill, when the grandeur of the Gloriette suddenly appeared before me as I came around a bend in the wooded roadway and out into the bright sunlight.  As I turned to face the palace below, the view was nothing short of magnificent as the colorful city skyline of Vienna was stretched out along the horizon.  Just below the Gloriette on both sides was a large pond that created natural bookends to the structure. There was a grand cafe with large glass widows, offering thirsty patrons a beautiful setting and accompanying view to enjoy a cool drink.  However, tempting as it may have looked, the clock was ticking and all I had time for was a bathroom break and bottle of Coca-Cola Light from a vendor before I began my descent. 

The Neoclassicist Hilltop Gloriette
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The Gloriette was built as a monument to all the soldiers who had perished over the centuries defending the empire.  The original grand plans for the summer palace dictated the main palace structure be built upon the top of the hill but construction was determined to be too expensive and the lower location was chosen instead.  The grass-covered hillside is an excellent space for spectators to sit when summer outdoor musical concerts are performed at the Gloriette.  The long zig-zagging pathway down the slope was longer than anticipated and I was beginning to worry I would miss our predetermined rendezvous in the main courtyard more than a half mile away.  However, I couldn't resist stopping periodically to take a few pictures of the beautiful view below.  I finally came to the base of the hill where the Large Neptune Fountain (Map-7) roared with powerful cascading falling water into a large pool below.  The Baroque styled fountain contains large marble statues depicting a mythological scene of the Goddess Thetis requesting Neptune to give her son Achilles a safe passage to the ancient city of Troy.  Stretched out before me was a colorful view of Schonbrunn Park (Map-6) framed by the large side gardens and main palace structure beyond.  It resembled a living work of art where nature and man merged to create something of true beauty. 

View of Schonbrunn from the Gloriette
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The ornate gardens of brilliant colors were scrolled out in multiple complex designs of patterned symmetrical artwork displayed on a canvas of bright green lawns, framed by broad stone walkways. As always, I wished we had more time so I could explore the other half of the gardens on the opposite side of Schonbrunn Park.  I later discovered that the other side contained one of the largest greenhouses in the world known as Palm House (Map # 18) and a large zoo, which has been in existence since 1752.  The zoo known as Tiergarten (Map # 22), has been brought up to date as a modern facility and houses a variety of exotic animals such as elephants, apes, and hippopotamuses. There is also a space known as the Maze (Map # 15), a labyrinth of tall green hedges that would have been fun to navigate but time was slipping away.  Unfortunately, I was never able to penetrate the space hidden from view by a line of trees and accompanying statues.  If I ever get a chance to visit again, I will be sure to get the interior tour and then start by exploring the east gardens first.  I made it back to the main courtyard to join up with our students and even had time to explore the gift shop and enjoy another Coca-Cola Light under the shade of a brightly colored umbrella overlooking the courtyard and palace frontal facade.  

Schonbrunn's Neptune Fountain
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On our way out, we even had a few minutes to explore the side English rose gardens that had several rose covered trellises that were large enough to walk through, resembling a tunnel of flowers.  The summer imperial palace was absolutely beautiful and it was no wonder why the royal family and court wanted to spend the summer months in residence.  In fact, I wouldn't mind moving into one of the 1000+ rooms of the palace for a month or two, so I could take my time to fully check out the property in full!  We walked back to the small train station and boarded to make our way to our next and final destination before departing the city.  On our train car we met a nice old gentleman who was quietly ministering to anyone who would listen.  He asked if he could pray for us and we welcomed his blessing, which requested safe travels for all of us during the remainder of our stay in Europe.  We got off at our stop and said goodbye to the kind elderly missionary, who continued on the train to destinations unknown.  

Elderly Train Missionary
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Site Facts, Figures, and History
Source / Vienna by Lina Schnorr
Published by Harald Bohm - 2014

  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 10 / Hotel Sacher



GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
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Part # 10 / Vienna - Hotel Sacher

Colorful Street Cafe at Night
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After regrouping on the Stephensplatz we began to make our way to Hotel Sacher, which was located right next to the Vienna State Opera House.  The skies overhead were now darkening but the streets had come alive, illuminated with bright colorful lights.  Again, the streets were full of pedestrians on their way about the city.  Several street performers offered passersby a cheaper alternative to the formal venues for which the city is famous.  We passed by a lone violinist who was barely visible up against a nearby building, faintly revealed by a soft light overhead.  His open instrument case lay open at his feet, hoping for some compensation for his efforts.  Perhaps, he was a hopeful student, working his way from the streets toward the larger stage and mainstream notoriety.  I wish him all the best!  The buildings were interesting to look at, so different back home as everything seemed more orderly, clean, and elegant.  The outdoor sidewalk cafes were still very busy with patrons relaxing, sipping coffee, or ordering light fare.  Thankfully, the heat of the day had subsided with the onset of darkening skies.  Vocal salespersons continued to try and fill any and all open spaces within theaters located throughout the city by calling out to the passing crowds.  A few were even in costume to resemble Mozart himself, hoping to stand out and attract attention.    


 Bright Lights, Big City
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We continued on our way through the beautiful streets toward the Hotel Sacher, located in the center of the city.  The weather continued to be very nice and the heat of the summer sun had given way to cooler temperatures.  I was so thankful the weather had cooperated, as this experience would have been totally different with heavy rain and storms.  Walking through the city was so relaxing and calm compared with other cities, most notably due to the fact that there were no cars.  The sound of engines and car horns were replaced with the sound of music and French horns within the pedestrian walkway.  The multiple outdoor cafes provided a great place to relax in the open air of the summer season.  I'm sure it was a totally different atmosphere during the winter months, due to cold temperatures and the absence of most tourist visitors.  However, I would love to visit Germany and Austria during the winter and see the beautiful landscape covered in snow.  The traditional Christmas Markets that arise in most city and town centers during the holiday season would be a top item on my list to see and experience.  

Hotel Sacher's Signature Chocolate Cake
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Hotel Sacher is a five star luxury hotel in the heart of the city of Vienna, where a basic room can run you $500 a night.  Over its long history, the famous hotel has served guests from royalty to celebrities including Queen Elizabeth II, John Lennon, Grace Kelly, and John F. Kennedy.  Now they could add the students and chaperones of the GAPP Exchange from Warwick Middle School to their list of distinguished guests, even if we were just stopping in the cafe for dessert.  Wendy had somehow managed to get a reservation for all 20 of us in the hotel's restaurant to experience the famous signature chocolate cake known as Sachertorte.  The most famous culinary dessert in Austria was first created by Franz Sacher for a special reception for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in 1832.  As the story goes, the head chef who was put in charge of creating a special dessert for the prince's reception fell ill and the task was then assigned to his understudy, sixteen year old Franz Sacher.  His chocolate cake creation pleased those who attended the reception but did not become famous until much later.  Franz went on to work in several other cities and eventually returned to his hometown of Vienna, where he opened a deli and raised a family.

Sachertorte Creator / Franz Sacher
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Eduard Sacher, who was the oldest son of Franz, continued his father's craft in the food business and attended culinary school in Vienna where he became a pastry chef and chocolatier.  During his studies, he took his father's Sachertorte torte recipe and altered it to create his own version.  It was a hit and served at the famous bakery Demel Bakery in Vienna and eventually became the signature dessert at Hotel Sacher.  Ironically, a legal battle later ensued over which famous location had the legal rights to call their version of the cake The Original Sacher Torte.  The disagreement went on for years, right through World War II and eventually wound up in civil court.  For seven years, the legal battle raged over the naming rights of the cake and even what specific ingredients made up an official and original Sachertorte.  Eventually the dispute was settled out of court in 1963 where both businesses agreed to own the rights to serve a version of the cake and both had the legal right to use a variation of the name.  Today the Demel Bakery serves Eduard Sacher Torte and Hotel Sacher calls their version The Original Sachertorte.  All's well that ends well... as long as it's delicious!

  The Window View from Cafe Sacher
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We entered the hotel through a side entrance, which delivered us to the restaurant and cafe.  The interior space was richly decorated with dark wood mahogany walls accented with bright red and pink tones.  It was very beautiful and resembled everything you would expect from a luxury level hotel in Vienna.  This was not your run of the mill economy hotel chain.  We were taken to a cafe seating section that ran parallel with the street outside.  The top half of the large windows were free of glass and the view of the illuminated Vienna State Opera House across the street was beautiful.  It was a dining atmosphere that was unique and nothing like I had ever experienced before now.  We all ordered a slice of sachertorte... Sorry, I legally meant The Original Sachertorte!  The cake arrived with the mug of hot chocolate I had ordered, on a simple white plate accompanied by a white napkin and small dessert fork.  It was very elegant in its simplistic presentation.  Sachertorte is a dense chocolate sponge cake with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle.  It is topped with a dark chocolate icing, which was accented with a round chocolate candy disc with the words "Hotel Sacher Wien" imprinted on top.  It is traditionally served with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and no matter what you legally call it... delicious is most appropriate.     

Hotel Sacher Restaurant Interior
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We had most of the dining area to ourselves and took in the views of the opera house and the street scene outside.  I went off in search of the five star luxury bathrooms and got a view of some of the other areas of the restaurant.  It was really beautiful with oil paintings portraying aristocracy from Vienna's historic past adorning the walls.  The hotel is said to have a small art museum of collected works from the 19th Century but I imagine entrance to view fine art requires more than buying a piece of cake!  It was a really great experience that we all enjoyed very much. You could order a whole cake to go for about $40 but the dining room atmosphere, which you could never get at home, was priceless.  We left Hotel Sacher to go out and explore the night.  Wendy was leading a group of our students who wanted to take advantage of a free music concert outside the Vienna Rathaus, or city hall building.  I was tempted but was more than beat after walking about the city all day and instead, decided to retreat back to the hotel for the night.  I was joined by a few of our students who were also tired and we walked back toward the subway station together.  Along the way we passed by more colorfully lit social spaces and illuminated historic buildings.  I later regretted my decision because the rathaus was such a beautiful building and I never got the chance to view it, other than from a great distance.  It will be a "must see" if I ever get the opportunity to return to Vienna again.

  Vienna State Opera House
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Site Facts, Figures, and History
Source / Vienna by Lina Schnorr
Published by Harald Bohm - 2014


Saturday, January 28, 2017

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 9 / Vienna / Saint Stephens



GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
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Part # 9 / Vienna - Saint Stephens


The Streets are Alive with Music
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After a brief rest, we left the lobby of our hotel and were on the move once again, going out to explore more of the city.  We broke into smaller groups as a matter of interest and I led my collection of young ambassadors toward the cathedral of Saint Stephens in the heart of the city.  I was leader in age but the kids had mastered the "U" subway like a full-time resident and knew exactly where to jump on and off with ease.  I thought it much easier to follow the kids than try to digest the complex underground map of colored rail lines in conjunction with street stations.  The sun was out and illuminated the western sides of buildings, while leaving the eastern half in shadow.  It made it a little tricky to get the best shots with my camera but I took every opportunity to capture every photograph possible where the light cooperated.  The streets were still crowded with pedestrians, who appeared to be making their way toward no place in particular.  Perhaps they were on their way to the theater or State Opera House to hear the creations of Mozart or Beethoven.  As the evening arrived, street performers began to appear in small groups or solo to share their gifts of sound with anyone who would pause to listen. 

Prayer Candles of Saint Stephens
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As we approached the impressive sight of Saint Stephens, I couldn't help but notice the poor souls begging outside on the steps.  Old women and men who looked truly Biblical in appearance, which protruded a profound feeling of weakness in the presence of the tremendous walls of strength of the cathedral that soared upward to the heavens above.  I deposited several coins in the hands of an old woman who may have been blind as her distant gaze was unfocused but nodded her head in appreciation when she felt the coins hit her open hands.  Later I was told that some beggars are actually employees of a corrupt underground organization that preys on the sympathy of tourists for financial gain.  Regardless, I did not regret my actions as she looked like she could benefit from any and all available help.  As we entered into the dimness of the outer sanctuary, we came upon multiple large tiered racks of prayer candles, which created a beautiful display.  It was a reminder that the most important element of the magnificent church was the individual people from far and wide in need of spiritual guidance.  

Interior Sanctuary of Saint Stephens
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Saint Stephens is considered to be the most important religious site in Vienna and holds the high status as the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna.   It resides on top of the ruins of two church structures that previously occupied the space.  The church was first officially dedicated to Saint Stephen in 1147 as German nobles prepared to embark south on the Second Crusade.  As with most famous churches, the original structure was changed and expanded over the centuries to eventually grow into cathedral status. The original church started out in the Romanesque architectural style but later evolved to add Gothic elements as it expanded outward and upward.  The tallest tower of Saint Stephens is 446 feet tall, making it the tallest building in Vienna.  The construction of the impressive limestone tower began in 1368 and took 65 years to complete.  As the highest point in the city, the tower was often used as an observation point during times of war, when Vienna was threatened by foreign invaders at various times over the last 500 years.  

 Saint Stephens by Joseph Alt 1847
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Near the end of World War II, the German Army began to withdraw from the city as allied troops approached.  An order was given by top command to fire 100 shells at the cathedral to destroy the iconic structure in an intentional act of defiance.  However, the officer who received the order chose instead to ignore it, and his own personal act of defiance saved Saint Stephens from destruction.  However, as the Soviet Army came into view, a group of civilians intentionally set fire to several shops nearby in an effort to deny the invaders of supplies.  Unfortunately, the fire was driven by wind and spread through the streets towards Saint Stephens.  The cathedral caught fire and badly damaged the roof, causing the roof to collapse.  Thankfully, priceless works of art and artifacts inside were mostly spared from damage due to preventative care to protect them from the potential destruction of war.  The roof was replaced and covered with 230,000 colored tiles in a mosaic pattern that included the images of the Hapsburg Dynasty's coat of arms on one side and the City of Vienna's coat of arms on the opposite side of the roof.  The colorful pattern of tiles has helped make Saint Stephen's Cathedral become the most recognized structure in the city. 

 Mosaic Tiled Roof of Saint Stephens
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After a quick tour through the beautiful open-air sanctuary, we made our way to the star attraction of the cathedral.  For a small fee, you could take a small express elevator up 224 feet to the top of the North Tower, where a small observation deck provides an amazing view of the city in all directions.  The sun was about to set and time was of the essence, so we quickly got in line and waited our turn.  It was breathtaking to see the view, as we first stepped out into the fading sunlight of the observation platform.  However, one of the first things I took notice of was one of the cathedrals massive bells, which was perched right before us within the tower.  Of the 23 bells contained within the church, we were looking at the largest of them all, known as Saint Mary.  At 44,380 pounds, it is the largest bell in Austria and the second largest swinging bell on the entire continent of Europe.  As a result, it is affectionately referred to locally as the Boomer and I was glad we didn't get an opportunity to find out why during our visit on the platform!  The famous bell actually only rings about a dozen times a year on special designated times, including "ringing" in the New Year.

 View of Vienna from the North Tower
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The iconic South Tower of Saint Stephens is twice as tall as the North Tower and also has an observation platform.  However, there is a catch as it can only be reached by climbing the 343 steps within a tight circular internal staircase.  They say the view is amazing but I'll just have to take their word for it as the express elevator sounds a lot more user friendly!  The view from the platform was nothing less than spectacular and we arrived in time with enough light to see to the far reaches of the northern horizon.  The red terracotta rooftops spread out in all directions within view and their color was enriched by the orange glow of the setting sun.  The view was periodically broken up with the steeples of additional churches within the city jutting upright above the jumbled ceiling of Vienna.  One nearby rooftop contained an inviting open-air restaurant accented with vine covered trellises that was full of diners enjoying the cuisine and accompanying view.  We stood on the platform and continuously re-positioned ourselves to take in every view possible.  The sun began to sink deeper to the west and soon caused a bright glare, which reflected off the rooftops to obscure our view in that direction.  I would have loved to stay up there to see the city lights of the night but we had a schedule to keep so it was time to descend back down to street level and reconnect with the others of our larger group at the designated meeting place.  We had a reservation at Hotel Sacher to enjoy a piece of their signature chocolate cake dessert.

The Sun Sets / View to the West
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Site Facts, Figures, and History
Source / Vienna by Lina Schnorr
Published by Harald Bohm - 2014


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 8 / Vienna / City Center Tour


GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
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Part # 8 / Vienna - City Center Tour

The Plague Column on Graben Street
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We continued on our way down the wide pedestrian street, admiring the urban landscape and storefronts displaying the highest quality luxury goods from around the world.  Soon we came upon a large marble sculpture, accented with gold, which seemed somewhat out of place in the middle of the street.  The Pestsäule, also known as the Plague Column, is a monument of the Holy Trinity to honor the people of Vienna who perished in the last great plague to infect the city in 1679.  The Hapsburg ruler Leopold I vowed to return to the city if and when the plague ever dissipated and erect a mercy column to commemorate the dead.  The monument was constructed as promised and later went through many changes, revisions, and additions to become one of the most recognized monuments in Austria and beyond.  In 1693, the Plague Column was dedicated in its final form in the High Baroque style.  The column depicts the Holy Trinity with nine angles atop a cloud base with Leopold I kneeling in prayer at its base.  It was really beautiful and humbling to think what it represented.  It was just another reminder of how old the city was to have a monument dedicated to the victims of the Black Death.  The solemn marker provided a stark contrast to the wealth and rich luxury that abounded around it in the form of materialistic goods of excess.

Eissalon Schwedenplatz / Italian Gelato
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After a time, we broke off in different directions to explore on our own.  I joined my fellow chaperones in a quest for the best ice-cream in the city.  We left the historic district and entered into a more modern section, known as the Old University Quarter.  Despite the areas name, the buildings were much taller and seemed to suggest corporate Vienna's business district.  We found the famous "ice" stand known as Eissalon Schwedenplatz, where abundant flavors of Italian style gelato were colorfully displayed in overflowing containers within the expansive glass case. The stand was busy but the line moved quickly and soon I was faced with the dilemma of choosing from a complex rainbow of inviting flavors.  We made our choice and continued our stroll along the Danube Canal Donaukanal, which flows through the center of Vienna.  The canal was once a branch river of the Danube but had been converted into a canal long ago.  The sides of the canal were confined by high walls of concrete, which were decorated with colorful graffiti.  I know some would argue graffiti is a form of art but I will admit, I'm not convinced and not a fan.  The day was hot and we found a spot shaded by an overhead bridge.  We sat down on the edge of the retaining wall with our legs dangling over the side to watch the flow of the canal below.  It was a great spot to enjoy our rich ice-cream treats that really lived up to the hype.

The Danube Canal of Vienna
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We sat and watched the activity on the canal, enjoying a light breeze that seemed to follow the flow of the canal and was confined to the water by the tall buildings on both sides.  A few low boats eased by and passed beneath the arch of the bridge overhead.  It was a great way to take it all in and this was one of those spots where I could have sat all day to enjoy the picturesque setting in the shade of the afternoon sun.  However, only having an overnight stay in the city, there was so much to see and do before it would be time to leave Europe's center of art, music, and culture.  As a result, we left the sanctuary of the Danube Canal to seek out more sites of interest and headed back to the historic district to explore further.  Along the way we were able to direct our attention to previous passed over places of interest including Saint Peter's Church, which is somewhat hidden in the center of Vienna.  The Church is topped with a large dome with a fresco-covered ceiling.  The interior decor is very ornate, complex, and full of gold accented statues in the Baroque style.  A service was taking place during our drop by visit, so we did not stay long, and only viewed the interior from the rear of the sanctuary.  The church could be the oldest in the city, although no evidence of the original structure remains.  As with many churches, new structures were built to replace older versions with the passing of time.  The large oval interior space was very impressive and brightly colored despite the dim lighting. The dozens of churches I have visited in Bavaria and Austria are unique and beautiful in their own individual way.               

The Vienna State Opera House / Side Wing
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The star attraction in Vienna is all things Mozart, which centers around the musical concerts within the famous Vienna State Opera House.  As you walk the streets you see salesmen dressed to resemble the composer himself in an effort to sell tickets to the latest scheduled concert.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most gifted composers in history, creating more than 600 works in his short 35-year lifespan.  Mozart moved to the capital of Vienna, where he had creative success but struggled financially at times.  As a result, he traveled about the content in search of sponsorship but eventually settled back in Vienna, where the final decade of his life proved to be his most productive.  His work and style greatly influenced many other composers including Ludwig van Beethoven, who also called Vienna home.  The Vienna State Opera House was first opened in 1869 and became the main stage for the nation's top musicians, singers, opera, and ballet performers. The iconic structure was badly damaged by fire during an allied bombing run during the conclusion of World War II in 1945.  The decision was made to restore the building back to its original stature, rather than raze the building and construct a new structure on the same site.  After a decade of work, the Vienna State Opera House reopened to share the splendor of the arts again with the world in the fall of 1955.

Pedestrian Streets of Vienna
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Now off on my own, I continued to explore the city and found a souvenir stand that didn't say Gucci or Rolex, so I bought a pin for five Euros to represent Vienna in my collection of hat pins of all the places I have visited both at home and abroad.  The buildings were all so ornate but also unique in architectural design, often contrasting one another to express their individuality. Yet, despite their independence, somehow they appeared as an interconnected string, expressing the uniformity of Vienna.  I really enjoyed the wide pedestrian streets that enabled me to take it all in and capture photographs without worrying about vehicular interference, running me over!  The absence of automobiles added to the historic feel of the city, plus the lack of noise and congestion were a welcome perk.  I was looking for something to eat and found an Italian Bistro called Vapiano close to our hotel.  It was like a pasta bar where you place your order and stand at the counter as the chef prepares an individual fresh portion, right in front of you.  It was interesting to see the meal prepared from sauce in a skillet to pasta in a pot, while you watched.  It was all done in about seven minutes and I was really hungry with all the walking I had done so far today.  Don't tell my wife, but it was some of the very best pasta I had ever eaten.  The rich meat sauce and subtle seasoning combined with the freshly made linguini was absolutely delicious.  If we had stayed another day, I would have definitely returned for a replay.  I will keep my eye out for Vapiano in other cities as I believe it was a might have been a franchised chain.  Unfortunately, I haven't come across any other restaurants since and the amazing taste was lost in Vienna.

Signage Advertising Vapiano
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I continued through the now familiar streets near our hotel and sat down to rest and just take in the sights for a few minutes from a retaining wall along Mariahilfer Strauss.  Again I admired the delicate towering trees above, providing light shade over the movement of life below its ornate branches of leaves of light green.  The slightest breeze set the tiny leaves in a flutter, resembling a dance to the rhythm of nature.  In stark contrast was the urban landscape that contained them and their roots.  In addition to the McDonald's restaurant our kids had dined in earlier, there were a few other signs of American commercialism present in the form of a few Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks tucked in corners throughout the city.  After a time, I continued on my way and managed to find my way back to our hotel and took refuge for a short time in my tiny hotel room.  I opened the window with a view of the sky above and took a brief rest in my bed to digest all I had seen and experienced so far this day.  Within a short time, we would regroup in the lobby downstairs to explore the city once again in the evening light of the setting sun.

 The Plague Column / Detail
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Site Facts, Figures, and History
Source / Vienna by Lina Schnorr
Published by Harald Bohm - 2014




Sunday, January 22, 2017

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 7 / Vienna - City Tour



GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
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Part # 7 / Vienna - City Center Tour


The Hofburg / Imperial Winter Palace
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We continued on our way down toward the historic heart of the city.  We entered into an open area known as the Heldenplatz or Heroes' Square, which contained a large arching ornate Gothic style building that once served as the Imperial Palace of the Hapsburg Monarchy.  The Hapsburg Dynasty ruled Austria for nearly 300 years and designated Vienna the capital city of their empire for the majority of their reign.  The Hofburg was first constructed in the 13th Century and has been continuously expanded with each ruler adding his or her own personal touch to the ever evolving architectural monument to Austria's power.  Today the former imperial palace serves as the home and workplace of the nation's current president, contains government offices of Austria's Congress, and houses several museums of priceless works of art.  We sat on steps in the shade of the Heroes' Gate as several students took turns presenting on various sections of the impressive winter palace. 

Handsome Cab on Heroes' Square
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It was amazing how much history, culture, and artwork could reside is such a contained space.  Additionally, to think of all the powerful men and women who ruled from this beautiful palace over the centuries was quite an amazing thought to comprehend.  It was a beautiful day as we strolled across the vast Heldenplatz, past the Festive Hall Wing, and then entered through an arched passageway that led us into the center of the Old Citadel, which is also known as the Swiss Wing and is one of the oldest sections of the Imperial Winter Palace.  The Swiss Wing contains the Hofburg Chapel, where the famous Vienna Boy's Choir performs every Sunday morning.  Horse drawn handsome cabs frequently crossed through the ornate passageway on their way to beautiful sites in every direction.  It appeared to be a very elegant way to tour the city, which complimented the historical ornate atmosphere of the surrounding architecture.  It was literally like walking through a fairy-tale-like urban landscape.  Everything was adorned in bright white and was complimented with subtle etchings, scrolls, and tasteful accents that were embedded in each structure's design. It was beautiful.  

Imperial Palace / Festive Hall Wing
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During the exchange, we are always running on a busy event filled schedule and it is sometimes hard to look ahead to what's next when you have so much in front of you to absorb in the present.  As a result, I was not really aware of what all I was going to experience on this side trip and did not get a chance to research all there was to see in Vienna.  As is often the case on my day trips throughout the three week exchange, I am often pleasantly surprised to see something totally unexpected and exciting.  As we proceeded on our self-guided walking tour, we passed through the circular rotunda known as Saint Michael's Wing.  I was admiring the dome and surrounding passageways when I noticed a advertisement of depicting a beautiful white stallion standing on its hind legs.  My father loves horses and remembered watching and admiring the famous white stallions on television when I was a kid.  I thought maybe they were on tour and possibly visiting Vienna to host a performance.  

 The Spanish Riding School Palace Stables
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I soon realized after exploring a little further down one passageway, this was the home of the famous Spanish Riding School.  I was able to risk going a little further to see several of the beautiful horses who were out in the summer riding courtyard.  I didn't want to get separated from our group but I couldn't help but get in a position to get a few photos of the beautiful horses.  I stood along with a small group of people who were also admiring the horses but was immediately reprimanded by a stable staff member who sternly gestured me away.  Apparently, I had stumbled into a private tour group viewing the horses and photos were reserved for paying tour members only.  Oh well, I got my pictures and just chalked it up to another instance of being a clueless tourist.  Plus, I had once again been verbally scolded in yet another city or attraction in Europe, keeping my perfect record intact!  Now that I could cross that off my list, I could proceed forth with high expectations!  It was amazing to see the horses and proved once again that you never know what amazing sites you might fall into around any given bend in the road!    

 Roman Ruins / St. Michael's Circle
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We continued on our way through the interior tunnel through the winter palace and emerged out into the sun filled Saint Michael's Circle, named for the famous church nearby.  Known locally as the Michaelerplatz, the center of the space contains discovered ruins of a Roman era wall and house that remain exposed for public view.  Really amazing to see Roman ruins in person, pure physical evidence of how long human beings have called the area of Vienna home.  We walked from ruins of long past into a pedestrian street known as the Kolhmarkt, which is where the historical streets of Vienna merge with rich modernity.  The area is known as one of the most expensive shopping districts in Europe and is hosted by the likes of brand names such as Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Company, Michael Kors, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, Chanel, Cartier, and many other stores I could never afford to shop.  The streets were extremely crowded with locals and tourists alike both exploring the high-end retail shops.  
 
Jams and Jellies of the World
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We continued on our way down the Kolhmarkt toward a small grocery shop known as Julius Meinl, which was touted as one of the most expensive in Europe or even the world.  The store had foods from all across the globe, displayed and arranged by country of origin.  The walls were a rich dark wood and an escalator took inquisitive shoppers to the second floor merchandise and beyond.  I stayed on the ground floor but later learned there was a stylish cafe, sushi bar, delicatessen, and wine cellar.  Apparently, fresh caviar from the Caspian Sea is a specialty but I decided to pass.  Instead, I sought out some of the American displays to see what items were worthy of shelf space in such a grocery boutique.   Coca-Cola products and Hershey Chocolate were two notable items prominently displayed.  I was thirsty so I decided to buy a Coke Zero for the walk ahead.  I think I paid over six dollars for a small plastic bottle but when in Vienna... I little taste of America was worth every cent and now I could say I'm a shopper of fine goods at Julius Meinl!  It was an excellent vintage and the carbonation was exquisite, very agreeable with my sophisticated palate!  Tune in next time as we continue walking the beautiful streets of Vienna!

     Vienna High-End Shopping District      
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Site Facts, Figures, and History
Source / Vienna by Lina Schnorr
Published by Harald Bohm - 2014

 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 6 / Arrival in Vienna


GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
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Part # 6 / Arrival in Vienna

Vienna Underground Rail System
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Wendy and I led our 18 students from the train platform into the Vienna Rail Station and caught our first real view of the celebrated city of Vienna through the large wall-sized windows of glass.  Our first task was to purchase 24-hour metro passes for each member in our group, as this was the best way to navigate through the expansive city.  The Vienna underground, also known as the U-Bahn or just the plain "U" was located just below the train station for convenience.  I have not always been a fan of the subway ever since my wife and I had a scary experience in New York City when we were still dating.  We entered a subway train car that looked more than a little rough from the outside and got more so when we were inside and the train began to move.  The car only contained a few other passengers, who looked like they had been riding the car nonstop for several weeks.  As we sat down, I quickly noticed a man sprawled out on the center of the floor face down, who appeared to be sleeping.  The two others were seated on either side of him and blocked the way to the next car.  We were dressed up for a day on the Big Apple and I couldn't help but feel more than a little anxious.  My feeling quickly turned to fear when the lights inside the car began flickering on and off into brief periods of pitch-black darkness.  Every time the lights flashed back on, I expected the trio to appear right in front of us with weapons drawn.  Needless to say, we got off at the next stop without incident but decided to walk the considerable distance above ground to our destination rather than experience the excitement of mass-transit again.   

Vienna U-Bahn Transit Map
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New York City's subway system is so vast, complex, and quite overwhelming for a small town guy like myself to navigate.  As a result, I haven't been a passenger on a subway again until I traveled to Germany.  On following trips to New York City, I have opted to stay above ground, hailing a yellow taxicab to speed me on my way.  My only other experience on one of America's subway systems was when visiting Washington D.C. one summer.  In that instance, we never got to actually board the train because it broke down before it arrived at our station.  The metro sign was flashing "Fatal Track Error" and that was enough for my family and I to emerge up back out into the summer sun for good! However, I am pleased to report, every subway I have ridden on in Europe were, clean, reliable, well lit, and much easier to navigate.  The color-coded rail-lines were clearly marked and our kids picked up the process of jumping on and off with ease to find their way to targeted locations throughout Vienna.  I'll admit that I continued to be more than a follower than a leader when it came to mapping out our underground route.  The U-Bahn transit map still looked a little intimidating to me, especially when applying it to the real thing where there were no brightly colored tracks.  Like most trains I have been on in Europe, the U-Bahn operates on the honor system, where passengers are randomly spot-checked for ride passes by conductors.  Most abide by the rules as the fare is reasonable and the penalties for jumping a ride, very costly.

The Location of our Hotel
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We got off at the stop where our hotel was located, which was near the heart of the city.  It was a short walk but we must have resembled a small caravan with rolling overnight suitcases in tow.  My first impressions of the city matched that of other European cities I have visited over the years in Germany and Austria.  Vienna's urban landscape was clean, white, and free of any imposing tall skyscraper office buildings.  In addition it had a historic feel and expressed an easy-going, pleasant, and warm personality.  The streets were lined with well maintained neat buildings that were uniform in their bright presentation.  The tree-lined streets were void of most automobile traffic, which was replaced by an abundance of bicycles.  It was a beautiful cityscape and easy to see why it was such a popular destination for visitors from around the world.  We found our hotel, which was called the Hotel Terminus, and had an old-world feel.  We took turns ascending up to our rooms in the small elevator that strained to contain three full-sized adults.  It was nice to have a room to myself and it was exactly as I had imagined.  It was small, compact, and efficient in design and simple in style as is customary in many living spaces in Europe.  It was a little tight for a big guy like myself but it was clean and comfortable with a large window, that when opened, brought in a welcome cool breeze.

 Mariahilfer Strauss / West View
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We dropped our bags and were quickly on the move, wanting to maximize what we could see of the city during our brief overnight visit.  It was so fortunate that we were so centrally located and just a short distance away from Maria-Theresien Platz, the Hofburg, and Volksgarten.  However, our first order of business was to obtain much needed nourishment and within a few minutes our students had sniffed out a nearby American icon... McDonald's!  When in Vienna?  Come on man!  I later researched to discover Vienna has 17 McDonald's locations within the city.  Good Grief!  I couldn't help but venture inside to check it out and compare the Austrian version to the original back home.  With the World Cup Soccer Tournament in full swing, there were several variations of the quintessential Big Mac advertised on the overhead menu.  The nation's of the remaining teams working their way toward the championship match, each had their own ethnic version available for purchase.  I stayed long enough to use the bathroom and then quickly exited back out into the street, seeking a more foreign food choice that didn't have the McDonald's logo attached.

Mariahilfer Strauss / East View
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Directly across the way was a small walk-in eatery called Turkrs Take Away that looked my speed.  I ordered a Turkish-Greek-Hungarian specialty called chicken nudeln, which was a combination of noodles, roasted chicken, and shredded cabbage, mixed with a slightly spicy sauce prepared hot on the grill as I waited.  The friendly server wore a pressed white paper hat and served his culinary creation in a cardboard box container to go.  He spoke English with a very strong accent and asked me where I was from and welcomed me to the city.  I ventured outside and rejoined the rest of my group eating in the outdoor seating area just outside the home of Ronald McDonald.  The city street was so relaxing and I was immediately drawn to the matching rows of tall trees that ran parallel down both sides of the street.  I couldn't identify what kind of trees they were but their tall lien stature with light green foliage suited their surrounding environment perfectly.  They provided some shade but their small fern-like leaves also allowed sun to penetrate down to the street below.  It was a great location to sit, relax, and watch the world pass by...

 Colorful Streets of Vienna
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We gathered everyone back together and took a count, one of many roll calls that became standard operating procedure during our adventure.  Each of our students was assigned one of the sites we planned to visit today.  They researched their assigned topic of interest while traveling on the train and would now act as tour guides as we made our way through our planned route.  The city was vast with collections of interconnected buildings but also wide-open spaces that contained museums, government buildings, and beautiful gardens.  There were more pedestrians than vehicles making their way about the city streets, which did not feel crowded like New York and Philadelphia.  In contrast, many American cities can feel claustrophobic with an abundance of people and traffic congesting the streets, wedged between the rows of tall office buildings.  New York City always reminds me of a complex maze with walled in pathways expanding outward in every direction with no escape.  Vienna seemed to be of a much more slower pace with less noise pollution.  It was a beautiful day, a true blessing when scheduling a visit so far in advance.  We arrived at the Hofburg Winter Imperial Palace, where we heard our first student presentation.  Stay tuned for our tour through the streets of history...  

Turkish Chicken Nudeln
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Site Facts, Figures, and History
Source / Vienna by Lina Schnorr
Published by Harald Bohm - 2014


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