Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some Thoughts on Halloween

Austria doesn't really do Halloween like we do in the U.S. but there are some subtle reminders here and there that sort of put me in a Halloween mood. For example, this strange, hairy orange flower, for sale at a Vienna shop:

Or this broom and pumpkins:

Or these colorful pumpkins on stone steps in Durnstein:

And this iconic ivy-covered wrought iron gate and steps to a vacant lot in Hallstatt:

And then there are other, not so subtle reminders, like this winged skull in Salzburg:

Or this stone carving of a headless torso:

And this one. Gads, what an awful thought:

While we celebrate Halloween and try not to think too deeply about its aspects that remind us of our mortality, perhaps the reason it is not so celebrated in Europe is because there are many historical reminders here of death and horror. While history and carvings like these teach us about human capacity for cruelty, often motivated by greed, intolerance or anger, it seems that it takes much more strength of character to find the power and the path to kindness, understanding and generosity. Is there a fast track to making us truly civilized that doesn't include hard and awful lessons? Haven't we had enough of those?

Happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cold, Wet and Joyous

These flowers were very wet the cold afternoon I took this photo. If you click on the image perhaps you can see the raindrops on their petals. One of the things I love about mums is when they bloom they usually do so with exuberance. What's not to love?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Artistic Order of Pigeons

These nine pigeons arranged themselves in an artistic manner on a wall of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spicy Gratings

Orange is a popular color in home furnishings throughout Austria—it provides visual warmth during the winter. However, when I saw these two painters applying bright orange paint to Vienna's Hofburg Palace, my first reaction was that this was quite daring. I liked the reflected sunlight on the one painter's hand and I thought the nearby sign touting "Spicy Mexican Whopper" somehow fit the new color scheme. While walking by this same window a few days later, I realized this is simply a primer for the usual black paint.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Engineering the Semmering Railway

We recently drove to the town of Gloggnitz, Austria, southwest of Vienna, to ride the Semmering Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The railway's iconic images are of its beautiful double-arched brick and stone bridges. Unfortunately, this photo only shows the top arch of this particular bridge. Still, I like its poetry.

The UNESCO honor is for the engineering achievements of the railway's designer, a young genius (he took the exams for a doctorate in mathematics at age 18), Carl Ritter von Ghega. He is credited with designing the world's first Alpine railway, the Semmering Railway from Gloggnitz to Mürzzuschlag. The 41 km railway route, which had been thought impossible to traverse, was constructed between 1848 and 1854 by 20,000 workers, 5,000 of them transported daily from Vienna. With 14 tunnels, 16 viaducts and more than 100 bridges, Von Ghega preferred to use bricks and stones rather than iron and steel for the majority of his bridges. He was knighted ('Ritter' denotes knighthood) before the railway's completion in 1854.

It's unusual to see monuments to engineers but the train station at Semmering has a massive one to von Ghega.

A few views from the train:

I'd only be guessing if I were to tell you the function of these wheels above the tracks. I think they have something to do with the electrical lines above the train.

The inside of the train before the other passengers arrived:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trio of Old Vines

This trio of old, graceful vines greet visitors at the entrance to Schallaburg Castle, northwest of Vienna.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hofburg Wheels

I turned to catch a quick snapshot of this fiaker moving through the portico of Vienna's Hofburg Palace. The light balance is not so good but I wanted to capture the assemblage of wheels. On the computer, I was surprised to see the similarity between the chains and the 'linking' bike wheels. I may try this shot on an overcast day and hope the riders will again place their bikes just so. Wishful thinking, eh?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Schwedenplatz's Space-Age Sausage Stand

Vienna's Schwedenplatz is a popular place to eat hot dogs and Italian gelato in the summer but the ice cream shops close in September for the winter. I like the space-age 1950s look of this usually crowded hot dog stand. Twice recently I found it looking nearly deserted, late at night and early one morning. Try the cheese-filled, grilled käsekrainer sausage stuffed into a baguette-style bun.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Staying in a Castle

Who doesn't dream of spending a night in a castle? Our dream came true last month when we stayed at the dreamy Burg Oberranna, near Austria's Wachau Valley, an hour or so northwest of Vienna. What a fantasy!

The breakfast room:

The ceramic, wood-fired heater in the corner is typical of old heating sources throughout much of the German-speaking world. It's said to be very energy efficient as well with a couple of small logs providing heat all day.

The castle has its own Chapel of St. George, which dates back to the first half of the 12th Century. It's a popular site for small weddings.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Walden Pond

If you've been following me for awhile you know I am drawn to Thumsee, Germany, just outside of Salzburg. It is my Walden Pond, my piece of paradise, my place for ahhhhh, where—if I open my eyes—my heart is always immensely enriched. Here are some photos of my last visit there, in mid-September, all taken on a single, solitary walk around the lake.

If you'd like to see more photos of beautiful Thumsee, please use the Google search button near the top of this page and type in Thumsee. I'm sure you'll see why this place takes my breath away.