Sunday, January 30, 2011

Naturalized Mummies of Michaelerkirche

Past an excavated site with unearthed Roman ruins, across the plaza from the Hofburg Palace's main entrance (see yesterday's post) stands Michaelerkirche, the Church of St. Michael. Originally built in the early 1200s, it is one of Vienna's oldest churches. Shortly after his death, Mozart's Requiem was performed here for the first time.

Several years ago, as a friend and I were walking past, a church guide told us she was just about to start a tour of their catacombs and invited us to join. When we hesitated, she told us this is a very special place, one of the few sites in the world with naturally-preserved mummies. We decided to take the tour and learned that between 1631 and 1784, about 4,000 people were buried here. While not all were mummified, the reason for the preservation was that in certain locations the crypt had just the right combination of temperature, humidity and air flow. It was quite an interesting, moving experience. I guess, no matter what you desire, it pays to be in the right place at the right time.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Hofburg's Fancy Portico and Cupola

One place in Vienna that never fails to fill me with awe is the Hofburg Palace's portico and cupola, the grand entrance to the sprawling palace. The first time I walked through, a young musician was playing Pachelbel's Canon in D on his electric violin. Between the sweet sounds and the amazing sights, it was a magical moment that I'll never forget. If I ever am lucky enough to re-experience that moment, I'll be sure to make a video for you but, for now, let's take a walk through the portico.

The Hofburg, home to the Austrian monarch for more than 600 years, was originally a 13th century medieval castle. This part of the palace, known as the Michaelertrakt (St. Michael's Wing, named for the church it faces), is relatively new. Built in the late 1800s under Ferdinand Kirschner, it was designed by Austria's favorite Baroque architect, Fischer von Erlach who lived from 1656 to 1723.

This photo is something of a mystery to me. In reality, the entire area is painted in shades of white and taupe and there are no colored lights that I can see, yet this one evening, the outside and two inner areas photographed in pastel shades of blue, gold and green. This view is from the inner courtyard facing toward the wrought iron gate.

Here the walkways have a pinkish cast, another illusion, but you can see that the area is not green as the previous photo would lead you to believe. Still, optical illusions aside, the craftsmanship on every surface is amazing, is it not?

Now, if we'll look up...Wow! Oh, sorry, this always takes my breath away:

This grand entrance leads to the Amalienburg part of the palace and the apartments of the beloved Empress Elisabeth ("Sisi").

I want to look up at that dome again, don't you?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sárvár Arboretum and Nature Conservation Area in Hungary

Having spent most of my life in places where it rarely snowed, I find these light, frozen water crystals and the effect they have on a tree, a lawn, a path, a bridge absolutely enchanting. We spent a heavenly morning wandering through the Sárvár Arboretum and Nature Conservation Area in Hungary, once the property of the monarch of the Austro-Hungarian empire. A 16th century imperial vegetable and flower garden, the area fell into disuse until it was replanted by Bavarian forestry engineers in the early 1800s and further enriched in the 1930s. It was significantly damaged during the war, however, as trees were cut for firewood. The next major restoration was in the 1960s and, while the results of those labors are generally what is seen today, you can still enjoy some oaks that are hundreds of years old here.

Click on the photos to see them better.

The park even has a California Redwood:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Feminine Four Seasons

The Vienna River (Wienfluss) which bisects Stadt Park was transformed from its natural state into a flood-control channel in the late 1890s by architects Friedrich Ohmann and Josef Hackhofer (see photos of their architecture along the Wienfluss in previous posts here and here). Ohmann also designed the Emperor's beautiful city Palmenhaus (here). Their Art Nouveau details made the river channel much more than an engineering project—it's a beautiful, landmark addition to the city and a pleasant place to linger.

The Art Nouveau movement often had feminine representations of the four seasons and hidden along the Wienfluss are these four lovely busts.




Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Romantic Salesian Church

With its cupola-topped dome, wrought iron gate, front garden lantern, and cobblestone driveway, Vienna's Salesianerinnenkirche presents a picturesque scene. The enormous Baroque church, built for the Salesian nuns in the early 18th century, is next door to the Belvedere Palace.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Belvedere Blues

It snowed about three inches last night but by morning the clouds had evaporated and a bright blue sky prevailed. It was a beautiful morning for a walk to the Baroque Belvedere Palace, built by the illustrious Prince Eugene of Savoy, Austria's greatest general and an avid art, plant and animal collector. The statues and gates were especially dramatic against the sky and palace shadows.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vienna's Coolest Shop

Vienna has an impressive history of attracting creative artists and musicians who have defined "modern" throughout the ages. But if the works of Klimt, Moser, Loos, Wagner and the others aren't inspiration enough, a visit to Walking Chair Design Studio will convince you the creative spirit is still very much alive in Vienna. Not far from Hundertwasser Haus, on the corner of Rasumofskygasse and Marxergasse, Karl Emilio Pircher and Fidel Peugeot have truly turned trash into treasure. With imagination and design flair they invite us to find the beauty and possibilities in our discarded items.

Fidel showed me around the shop today and I was especially enamored of the surprisingly beautiful, cloud-like chandeliers made from water bottles.

These unusual torso-like lamps give a second life to pill blister packs.

As do these smaller lamps:

Beautiful! I know I'll be thinking about these lamps whenever I use or throw away a blister pack.

Did you know, these PET water bottles...

start out as a tube...

and, with a little heat, can be used as clever clothes hooks or coat racks:

"My First Chandelier," is a clever way to dress up naked lightbulbs.

In addition to their shop, Walking Chair Design Studio sells their items online ( and to art museums. It's best to visit the shop, though, as Fidel might treat you to a concert. "We make things and songs," he said.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rip Art

The fence surrounding the construction zone for the new Wien Mitte train and U-Bahn station generally sports many colorful billboards. On one walk, I noticed the ads had been ripped off, presumably to make way for the next advertisements. The resulting patterns from the torn paper and residual glue reminded me of abstract paintings. In fact, as I've seen less pleasing art in museums and galleries, I thought it was a good idea to take a few photos of the ripped billboards. The stares and puzzled looks from passing travelers were quite funny. Oh well, I like the designs anyway.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Creative Pasta

Italy is such an enjoyable destination, not only for its history, architecture, culture and natural beauty but also for the creativity that seems to be everywhere there. These pasta hats —sombreroni—are just one small, delightful example.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Looking Up at Palazzo Vecchio

Once the seat of Italian government, then Florence's City Hall, and now a museum, Palazzo Vecchio is an extraordinary building for its appearance as well as its history. Outside, a replica of Michaelangelo's famous statue of David towers beside the entrance and inside, well inside, every surface is so heavily decorated it's hard to know where to look.

Frescoes in the first courtyard had scenes of cities in what is now Austria, in honor of the wedding of one of the Medici sons to a Hapsburg daughter. The columns are reminiscent of a wedding cake aren't they?

The exquisite courtyard ceilings hint at the ornamentation to come and I found myself looking up in every room, enchanted by the variety and beauty of the ceiling art:

Looking up so long can be hard on the neck. I found this framed bench for a short rest:

It's quite a contrast to this also-fabulous face-chair:

I'm including this photo simply because I like it and, like the available seating, it represents an old art which contrasts...

...with the traveling exhibit of Damian Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull, also on display at Palazzo Vecchio: