Friday, May 28, 2010

Landscape Bouquet

North of Vienna the rolling hills of Lower Austria provide a much different vista from Austria's alpine areas. As we drove to the village of Mistelbach, we found this beautiful landscape bouquet growing along the road.

Further down the road, these fields of red and white flowers caught our attention.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

White Leaves in Vienna's Burg Garden

During yesterday's brisk walk through Vienna's Burggarten, I had to pause to admire these glistening leaves against a rainy afternoon sky.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vienna Ranks Number 1 Again!

For the second year in a row, Vienna has ranked as the world's top city for quality of life by the Mercer group consulting firm. Congratulations, Vienna! We are certainly enjoying living here!

My Favorite: Vienna's Natural History Museum

Until recently, my all-time favorite museum was Amsterdam’s van Gogh. I will never forget the first time I walked into that museum thirty years ago and there were a dozen or more of his landscapes in one gallery. As I stood in the middle of the room I experienced one of the most colorful, energizing and inspiring moments of my life. I left filled with happiness and appreciation. On my most recent return visit (three years ago) the museum was modernized and the colorful landscapes I loved and longed to see again were no longer in the same room. The magic of their juxtaposition was gone. I will feel forever fortunate that I was once able to see so many of his very colorful landscapes together in one room.

Today my favorite museum is undoubtedly Austria’s Natural History Museum in Vienna. It’s not the building although it is a grand palace. There are museums in fabulous buildings all over the world. It's not even the contents. Many natural history museums have outstanding collections of rocks and animals. The aspect I really love is it feels like it’s a museum of a museum. It’s the only place I’ve been where, upon entering the first collection, I feel like I’ve been invited to view the collections of the greatest scientists of the 1700s. It has a very authentic ambiance about it.

First, some of the grand aspects:

The labels for the rocks, minerals and gemstones are typewritten on aged paper and the collections are displayed in antique or reproduction Baroque cases. I hope the museum staff never succumbs to peer or interior designer pressure to modernize too much.

Old microscopes are displayed in curved glass cases.

And the antique drawings make fabulous wall displays. I would love to have wallpaper or a scarf or a notecard or a poster or countertop of their series of corals, shells or microorganisms:

Like most natural history museums, they have an extensive collection of animals.

An Irish Elk skeleton is silhouetted against a window:

This large crystal is facet-nating:

Among the museum's treasures is the gemstone bouquet Empress Maria Theresia gave to her husband, Franz Stephan, a dedicated amateur scientist, at their engagement. In 1748, Franz I and Maria Theresia imported the initial collections for the museum from Florence, giving Vienna at that time the largest systematic collection in the world. Still impressive, the collection is displayed much as it might have been in the 1700s. I love it!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

En Route To, Into and Out of the Dead Sea

Still in Jordan, while en route to the Dead Sea, we passed a truck full of camels...

and saw fabulous landscapes....

The salt residue of the Dead Sea outlines the turquoise water with a band of white crystals.

The Dead Sea is evaporating and the surface level is dropping three feet per if the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, the lowest point on Earth is getting lower every year.

We frolicked and floated in the Dead Sea for a few minutes. Being able to effortlessly do a double ballet leg (a water ballet move I learned on a high school synchronized swim team decades ago in which you lift both legs simultaneously till they’re perpendicular to the water) was great fun. But as soon as water touched our lips or eyes, the burning sensation was so severe the fun was over.

I knew the Dead Sea had lots of minerals in it (and all kinds of products claim those minerals are great for your skin) but I still expected it to taste a bit like very concentrated ocean water or way-too-salty soup. Not so. When that water hit my lips my body’s self preservation system went into high animation and we skedaddled out of that water and over to the shower as fast as we could. Was it potash that burned so badly? We had passed Potash City with a large processing plant right on the Dead Sea. Or was it another harsh mineral? We later found an entry in Wikipedia saying sewage is dumped from the Jordan River into the Dead Sea! We weren’t far from the Jordan River! I don’t know if that is true or not and whether it was minerals or something else that caused such an intense burning sensation but I’m not sure I would go into the Dead Sea again. It might be best to just look at it, appreciating it from the banks and read about its remarkable geology, chemistry and history.

There is a spa in Bad Reichenhall, Germany—Rupertus Therme—near my favorite spot of Thumsee (see previous posts) where shallow pools give you a buoyancy similar to the Dead Sea. Floating there is a marvelous experience. We’ve even fallen asleep floating there!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Fabulous Drive Through the Fifa

The area known as Fifa, a proposed national reserve site in Jordan, is spectacularly beautiful. It is en route between Petra and the Dead Sea. First, a final look at Wadi Rum, the valley that leads to Petra. 'Wadi' means 'valley.'

The rest of these photos, taken from the car, do not begin to show the grandeur of the Fifa. It is a fabulous drive. If you like road trips, I highly recommend it.