Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year from Vienna!

Pigs, chimney sweeps, ladybugs, horseshoes, four-leaf clovers and many other Austrian and international symbols of good luck are everywhere in Vienna this New Year's Eve. Shaped out of marzipan, cake, fondant, clay, fabric, or just about any other material and sold in huts, bakeries and confectionaries all around town, shoppers are piling lucky charms in baskets to distribute to friends, family, acquaintances and strangers.

More than 700,000 people—babies to the elderly—sing, dance, eat, drink and otherwise celebrate New Year’s Eve in Vienna’s enormous street party. Stages are set up all around the first district and entertainment is non-stop. In years past it seemed that all of Italy was here; we would hear more Italian than German spoken.

And this is a lucky dog...riding in style!

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2010 bring you good health, happiness, luck and thoughts and may civilization advance in the highest sense of the word.

The Road from Abtenau, Austria to Gorgeous Gosausee

Gosausee, Austria is another of my favorite places. It's a lake surrounded by mountains, with a view of a glacier or two, charming hillside huts, a great place to take a hike around the lake and a spectacular place to view stars. Most of these photos were taken through the windshield of the car (don't worry, I was not driving). While most of the road is basically flat and running through farm pastures and fields, it is often only wide enough for one car. Beautiful sights continually present themselves, kilometer after kilometer, every time of year. As we got closer to the lake, I found the frosted trees thrilling.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Český Krumlov without the Crowds

Český Krumlov, in the Czech Republic, is one of my favorite places to take guests. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site, about 3 1/2 hours west, northwest of Vienna by car. This fascinating medieval village is normally packed with tourists. When we visited a few days ago—the first time I had seen it in winter— surprisingly few other visitors were there.

Of the castles I have seen, Český Krumlov is my favorite. I am amazed at the painted exteriors, the colors of some of the interior rooms, and I absolutely love the ballroom, the Masquerade Hall, its walls painted by Joseph Lederer in 1748 with unusual, colorful masked characters attending or viewing a ball. Unfortunately, castle tours are not offered in the winter. And sadly, photos are not allowed inside the castle, so I can only urge you to take my word that a visit to Český Krumlov and its castle will be unforgettable...but go in the summer so you can see the Masquerade Hall. Even better, an annual masquerade ball is held there every summer; maybe you can arrange to attend!

The castle towers over the village and the horseshoe bend of the Vltava River.

Stacked arches provide a dramatic entrance to the village.

I love this passageway that leads to the castle:

Great ceiling, huh?

I saw the artist painting this sundial last year. It provided the accurate time when I took this photo:

One of quite a few sgraffito buildings in the village:

The main market square:

Český Krumlov is in the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic and the creative influences of artists abound in the village. Marionettes are popular here:

The view through our pension's window on a rainy morning:

What a snazzy manhole cover!