Thursday, December 29, 2011

Up, Up and Away

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey.  It's not always easy to identify why we develop a desire to do something but I'm pretty sure that whatever dreams I had to fly in a hot air balloon became entrenched when I first heard the Fifth Dimension sing, "Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon."  That desire came crashing down, though, when I saw the Smokey the Bear balloon caught on a radio tower at the 2004 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  The pilot and his two young passengers had to climb out of their basket onto the tower and down the 700-foot structure while news helicopters hovered around them, creating strong winds and significantly adding danger to the situation.  

But yesterday I overcame my fear and joined about 500 other people in the chilly sky over one of the world's most unusual landscapes. 

Our pilot, Mustafa, of Butterfly Balloons, said Cappadocia is well-known for its good flying days, more than 300 per year.

Many of the balloons took a dip into the canyons, this one Rose Canyon, named for the color of the tufa, or volcanic ash that accumulated and eroded during the last ten million years.  Earthquakes combined with erosion over the millennia formed these magnificent canyons.

These conical structures, also tufa, were soft enough to be carved out for use as housing, food storage, animal shelter and churches.  Today, many have been converted into cave hotels and the Open Air Museum in Goreme, Turkey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

I was a bit relieved that our balloon was not so close to all these others in White Canyon.  Instead, our pilot, Mustafa, thought we should ascend above the clouds to see the sunrise.  And so we rose...
higher and higher and
it got colder and colder...
...until we broke through the clouds and saw not only the sun but a distant mountain peak.

UPDATE: Mustafa has written me that the mountain is "Mt. Erciyes (Argeaus), 3917 mt.  It is the major volcano that filled Cappadocia with ash for millions of years and with the help of water and wind erosion, we have this unique landscape."

Descending again, we saw the shadow of our balloon on a nearby cloud and a rainbow encircling our basket.  Thank you, Mustafa, for an unforgettable experience and a soft, uneventful landing!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sights of the Season

Edelweiss seeds for sale.

The view of Kartnerstrasse and the Maltese Church from one of Swarovski's upper windows.

White trees with pink bows stand outside the very pink and white Aida Cafe at Stephansplatz. 
A fiaker awaits passengers.

The Freyung's Old Vienna Christmas Market. 

The City Hall (Rathaus) in silhouette. 
Christmas lights begin to twinkle as the sun starts to set.

Walking past Aida again, now in the evening. 
And from the front....

Stephansplatz with the modern Haas Haus.


A fiaker heads down Rotenturmstrasse toward Schwedenplatz and the Danube Canal.

Elegant arched windows on one of the side streets near Stephansplatz.


The Graben.

Kartnerstrasse aglitter.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Italian Style in Vienna

Opened in 1860, the always-beautiful, Italian-inspired Palais Ferstel passage is a most pleasant place to take a stroll.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Moo-ry Christmas

Seen on one of the huts between Palais Ferstel and the Freyung Christmas Market....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the Graben

Christmas trees and chandeliers surround the main monument on Vienna's primary walking street, Graben.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Singing Praises of Singing Bowls

I've held a secret for nearly two years.  The main reason for the secrecy is that it is so amazing—and weird—I thought my credibility would suffer if I spoke of it.  But reputation aside, I think this information could possibly help somebody who is suffering.  

Although I love living in Vienna I've had a problem with recurring, intense headaches.  Before moving here I had about one headache per year; after moving here it was one about every two or three weeks and they were excruciating.  I thought it was from not drinking enough water or drinking too much water or eating Chinese food that may contain MSG or sleeping too long or not long enough or the short days in winter or the long days in summer.  Then I learned that Vienna is somewhat known for headaches, possibly due to its location in a geographical basin and the barometric pressure here.  I still don't know the cause of the headaches but I was taking more pain relievers in a month than I previously took in a year and was beginning to have concerns about the consequences of taking so many pills.

Markets are held every Easter and Christmas throughout Vienna but there's a hut at Am Hof in which the owner, Rashid, displays and sells all kinds of lovely Asian items.  I started talking with Rashid, who demonstrated his singing bowls—hand-pounded metal bowls that produce wonderful, harmonious tones when struck.  He mentioned that they were being used in Europe for therapeutic practices and were useful in strengthening fingernails, reducing joint pain and in the treatment of headaches.  Headaches?  Did you say headaches? OK!  SOLD!  That was the magic word.  Still, I was skeptical that it would really work but desperate enough to try almost anything.  At worst, I'd be the owner of an unusual bowl that made nice sounds.

He explained that to use it you remove your rings, place the bowl on the palm of your hand, strike the side with a felt mallet and slowly move the bowl in the air around the headache.   He said there could be relief within 15 minutes.  For me, it works much faster than that—perhaps three minutes, maximum.  A friend say she finds the pain leaving immediately.  Weird, huh?  Amazing—yes!  Placebo effect?  Possibly, but who cares?  Thank you, Rashid for making my life better by introducing me to the possibilities of singing bowls!  If you are in Vienna and interested in a demonstration of his beautiful singing bowls, talk to Rashid at the Asiatische Kunst hut at the Am Hof Christmas Market or Easter Market.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rain on the Ring

The rain.  The Ringstrasser.  The reflections.  From the Parliament.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tree on the Front Porch

Off to the side, tucked between the rows of columns of Austria's Parliament front porch is one very large tree....

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Karlsplatz Dreaming

Karlskirche looms dramatically in the background behind the dreamcatchers for sale at the Karlsplatz Christmas Market.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gorgeous Glass at Karlsplatz

The artisans displaying their wares at the Karlsplatz Christmas Market are among the most interesting in Vienna.  I've become enamored of the delicate, free-flowing, lusciously-hued glass items hand blown by Eva Klingraber.  Layers of colors, sometimes speckled, sometimes metallic, sometimes opalescent, all in relaxed forms absolutely make me drool.  They feel rustic, primitive and thoroughly contemporary all at the same time.  Eva's website is if you are interested in getting more information. As always, I have no financial benefit in my recommendations.  

For photos of the Karlsplatz Christmas Market in the snow last year, please click HERE.