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Spittal an der Drau

Spittal an der Drau


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I've had a great time so far in Spittal an der Drau, with everything going my way in terms of classes going well, great colleagues, a fantastic contact teacher, crisp but clear and sunny weather, unexpected culinary experiences, and an interesting, picturesque town and valley to explore after class.

It turns out that since the school includes Gastronomy as a subject, which involves both cooking and serving, the school canteen is set up like a restaurant so that older students can practise table service (perhaps some of the cooking as well). After classes have finished for the day, we've had lunch here on the house, with the contact teacher. What a lovely and delicious surprise! Yesterday we had a vegetable, pearl barley and bacon soup with a bread roll to start, then Marillenknödel (apricot jam dumplings) with custard to follow; today we had a three-course meal - a semolina-based soup with croutons to start, then Leberkäse (literally 'liver cheese', but not actually containing either; it's a type of meatloaf, served here with a fried egg on top) with vegetables and a fried potato and onion mixture, and finally chocolate mousse to finish.

Yesterday I went for a really nice walk round town after school, after dumping my stuff, changing and having a short rest at the hotel. I started off with some photos of the outside of the historic Catholic parish church - the place was closed, but hopefully I'll catch it open at some point before I leave on Saturday.

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Then I wandered past Schloss Porcia, apparently one of the foremost Renaissance buildings in Austria. It has a famous arcaded courtyard which is a venue for concerts, recitals and a theatre festival, and elsewhere in the building is the Folk Culture Museum. I promised myself that I'd return to visit it another day, as that sounds right up my street. Near the front entrance to the courtyard I saw a rather disconcerting statue of a disembodied arm on top of a pillar, brandishing a sword.

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After that I walked round the adjacent park, admiring the architecture and a mural on the way.

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There were some remnants of snow around on the grass, and an open-air rectangle of ice which I decided to investigate. I wonder if it's some kind of public ice rink? The ice didn't seem very smooth, though. Regardless of what it was, and the fact that I was wearing trainers and not skates, I couldn't resist a quick slide or two before exploring the rest of the park.

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From there I walked a couple of blocks and up a steep hill on one side of the valley into the outskirts of the town to admire the fantastic views.

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After school today I went for another walk, this time across the other side of town and beyond. Once I'd left the town I was walking along an extremely flat plain, still snowy in places and with the most fabulous views of the valley, forested hills and then snowcapped mountains beyond. The air was so clear and fresh and there wasn't a cloud in the sky - it was magnificent. After a while a paraglider came into view, soaring above. He was extremely high at first but then slowly descended, circling somewhat before eventually landing in a field close to the edge of town. I was jealous - I so desperately wish I could go paragliding some day!

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Posted by 3Traveller 21:56 Archived in Austria Tagged landscapes mountains churches buildings snow palace austria explorations english_teaching austrian_cuisine spittal_an_der_drau Comments (1)

Emerging from the pandemic: Arrival in Austria

London Stansted Airport, Salzburg Airport, Salzburg and Spittal an der Drau


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My first trip abroad since mid-February 2020...

It felt so strange to be back at an airport, then on a plane, then arriving in a foreign country, after all the world has gone through over the last two years. Hard to believe that the last time I was abroad, in Vienna, the pandemic had started but its full seriousness was restricted to China. The only physical sign of it I remember is a notice in a shop window saying something like 'China virus face masks for sale here' - I rolled my eyes a little, thinking "what a money-grabbing thing, preying on the fears of a tiny few, who's going to want to buy and wear a mask here for a virus mostly occurring on the other side of the world?" Yes, with hindsight now it might seem really silly to think like that, but on the other hand, at that time (the 2nd week of February) there were zero confirmed cases in Austria and nobody I came across seemed that concerned about it or thought it was going to explode around the world in the way that it then did. A week after I got back, cases were just starting to rise sharply in South Korea. Italy and Iran were the next to follow... Restrictions on movement in Austria started in March. National lockdown in England started on 23rd March.

Clearly, in March 2022 in real terms the pandemic is not over, and won't be for a long time. However, in the UK it does feel like we are starting to emerge from it. Last week in England, the last domestic legal COVID restrictions were removed, as were face mask requirements on Transport for London services. Face mask requirements had already been removed elsewhere, though some places (e.g. supermarkets) still ask people to wear them if they can (only about 10%-20% of people do so, though). In Austria, most of the remaining restrictions were actually lifted yesterday, though Austria does seem to be experiencing quite a rapid rise in COVID cases right now. I've already been told that a certain type of face mask is required to be worn on Austrian public transport, and everyone (including my colleagues and I) will be wearing them at school.

Aside from a fortnight of face-to-face teaching in London last November, all my teaching since February 2020 has been online. I imagine it will feel very strange to be back in a physical classroom during the the coming week. I'm in the town of Spittal an der Drau, in the Austrian state of Carinthia, due to teach a tailored course involving a combination of tourism, culture and culinary-related English.

To rewind to the start of the day, though; my flight from Stansted was early in the morning, at 07:10, so I had to be up at the crack of dawn - before dawn, actually. Dave kindly gave me a lift to the airport. The airport was very busy for that time of the morning, especially in luggage x-ray, but there was still time for a look round duty-free. Free samples of Bailey's were being handed out, so I tried some delicious 'Espresso Creme'. After an uneventful flight, I arrived at around 10:00 to blue skies and sunshine, disembarking to the sight of beautiful mountains with a bit of snow still on the peaks. Wow - what a difference to all the London airports...

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Inside, passing through luggage pick-up and passport control was a smooth process. My NHS COVID Pass was checked. Then it was a simple bus journey to the main train station. I had an hour's wait there, so after buying my ticket, I ate the chicken wrap and snacks I'd brought from home for the journey out in the square in front of the station, read on a bench inside (taken by surprise at one point by a big fluffy dog which brushed right past me - a Great Pyrenees, I think) and admired a few smallish pictures of the nearby mountains high up on the walls.

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The train journey to Spittal an der Drau took just over two hours and went by smoothly and quickly. I spent a lot of time simply admiring the scenery as we passed through the Alps. My pictures did not do it justice.

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On my walk to my hotel I was still stunned by the beautiful scenery. Spittal lies in a long, very flat valley on the southern slopes of the Gurktal Alps. Being amongst the Alps is quite a novelty to me - I look forward to exploring my surroundings over the coming week! The town itself looks very nice, too. I did come across a small protest walking through the streets, though (but it seemed pretty quiet).

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Since getting to my hotel I've met my two colleagues 'M' and 'R', admired the view out of my window...

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...had a rest, attended our pre-course meeting, prepped for tomorrow and been out for quite a late walk to find some dinner (neither 'M' or 'R' wanted dinner, so I was by myself). I wasn't successful with the latter, though. Nearly everywhere is closed on Sundays in Austria and although one or two restaurants were open, they looked a bit formal and I didn't want a sit-down meal anyway. Eventually I found a Turkish kebab takeaway, but when I went in and tried to order, there seemed to be some kind of problem which meant they couldn't make me what I'd asked for. I didn't really understand what the problem was, but to be honest everyone in there had turned round and stared at me when I came in so I felt a bit intimidated anyway, so I quickly left empty-handed without having successfully ordered or paid for anything.

Luckily I remembered that I had two or three unopened packets of fruit mentos sweets in my rucksack, so I went back to the hotel and made that my dinner before going to bed. Thank goodness I wasn't desperately hungry anyway!

Posted by 3Traveller 20:49 Archived in Austria Tagged mountains planes trains salzburg airport austria buses spittal_an_der_drau Comments (1)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn

Vienna, Vienna Airport & London Stansted Airport


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Although I woke up feeling exhausted - as drained as I was in Basel and the first couple of days in Bratislava - and under the influence of a cough/ cold which had returned with a vengeance, I felt better after noting the sunshine outside and having a big, leisurely breakfast. I packed and left my big case and laptop in the luggage room and set off on a final excursion - to the gardens of Schloss Schönbrunn, former seat of the Habsburgs.

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I only had a couple of hours free so decided not to go into the palace itself, interesting as I knew it would be. This time the gardens were enough, though if I get the opportunity to go again at some point then I'll definitely go inside the building and explore fully.

Although February is clearly not the best time of year to go, I still very much enjoyed my visit. The maze and labyrinth section was closed for the winter, the Orangery was empty, the rose bushes in the rose garden were covered in sacks (to protect against frost, I assume), a lot of the other bushes and trees were bare, and flowerbeds were dug up, awaiting replanting. However, despite this the place was still magnificent! Stunning architecture, spherical topiary, the Neptune Fountain, other statues set within ponds, the historic green metal Palm House building, arched walkways draped in wisteria, the swirls of flowerbeds... they all worked together in a way which was very pleasing to the eye.

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At one point I walked along one side of the zoo, and spotted some European bison and some deer. I also popped in to the small free part of the Desert House, where I saw an Oman Spiny-tailed Lizard. I thought about paying to get into the Palm House (basically a huge tropical greenhouse), but decided not to as time was starting to get on and I knew it would be so interesting to look round, I'd want to stay for ages and would regret having to rush. Another reason to come back!

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The last thing I looked at before heading for the exit was the Columbary, or giant dovecote. It dates from 1750 - 55 and still contains three species of pigeon; the 'Altösterreichischer Tummler Kiebitz', thought to have originated in India and arrived in Vienna during the Ottoman siege of the city (they didn't say which one, 1529 or 1683), and the 'Wiener Fluggansel' and 'Österreichischer Ganselkröpfer', other historic varieties.

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On my way out I passed lots of greenhouses, but they were all closed off to visitors.

On arrival back at the hotel I had half an hour or so to re-arrange my case, have lunch from a supermarket, check out the Storm Dennis and flight status situation online and update people about it. (Storm Dennis was/is a massive storm predicted to move over many parts of the UK over today and tomorrow.) Then I set off for the airport via metro and S-bahn.

The flight left on time. I had a window seat and by the time we took off it was dark, so since the sky was clear, I got a magnificent view of Vienna lit up before me. The sky remained cloudless for quite a long time, because every time I looked out of the window I got more wonderful views of towns and cities lit up far below us.

Even as we approached the given landing time it was still calm, with no turbulence, and I was starting to wonder all the fuss was about re. storm predictions... then we passed through a bit of turbulence, but no worse than any I've experienced before... then another period of calmness which seemed to last a lot longer than the 15-20 minutes we'd heard we had left before landing. Then the captain came onto the intercom and said that we'd be late landing because the storm was causing landings to back up, and that when we did approach, 'It will get a bit bumpy, just to warn you'. Understatement of the year... we were thrown about more than I've ever experienced before - at one point I wondered if it was possible for a plane to get flipped right over by wind! I didn't see anyone throw up, luckily, though a couple of people were leaning forward or holding their hands up by the sides of their faces. Looking out of the window, I could see the thick mist passing by - no sight of anything else almost until the very moment of landing. A very otherworldly experience, for sure.

The pilot deserved a standing ovation when we landed, though she didn't get one.

Update from May 2023: Little did I know then that due to the pandemic, it would be just over two years before I could go abroad again...

Posted by 3Traveller 11:38 Archived in Austria Tagged buildings planes vienna palace austria explorations unesco_world_heritage_site extreme_weather Comments (1)

Week in Vienna

Vienna


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I had a busy week this week, teaching in a northern suburb of Vienna. The school was over half an hour away via public transport, so it meant early starts each morning but also views from the train of places outside of the centre which I hadn't been fully aware of before but would now like to stop at in the future, including the Donauinsel, the Danube Tower and the ferris wheel of the famous Prater amusement park.

Due to the course I was teaching, there wasn't a Show at the end of the week, but rather group presentations about companies they had 'created'. The ones from my presentation class were very good and I was proud of the groups for their great performance! Their form tutor and a couple of their other teachers came to watch, which was nice.

To my joy, we had a whiteboard in one of the two rooms I taught in - I much prefer whiteboards to blackboards; writing on a blackboard is slower and the chalk dust gets on my fingers and sleeves. (It might seem a strange, funny or insignificant thing to get excited about, but if you've ever written on both types of board, hopefully you'll see what I mean!)

Foodwise, generally I stuck to supermarket stuff as the budget option, but there were two meals out during the week; on Monday evening we went to a Chinese/Japanese restaurant which was a bit pricey so I went for one of the cheapest options - noodles with vegetables. For some traditional Austrian food to round the week off with on Friday lunchtime after class, we went to an old favourite, the Seven Stars brewery (7Stern Bräu). I had two of my favourite Austrian dishes; delicious meaty Austrian beef goulash with a massive dumpling in the middle as the main, with apple strudel for pudding.

Tomorrow I'll have time for a shortish excursion before I have to go to the airport, so I'm going to pay the gardens of Schloss Schönbrunn a visit. Can't wait!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:28 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna austria english_teaching austrian_cuisine Comments (0)

Day at the Hofburg

Vienna


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Saturday 8th February (yesterday)

I had a lovely day yesterday (except for waking up with worse back and side pain than usual). My main destination was the Hofburg, the former Habsburg palace complex. There are so many museums and other attractions there that I could never hope to see them all in one day, so although I really liked the sound of the Butterfly House, Palm House, Fine Art Museum, the Armoury and some other places, I decided to get the ticket that would get me into three of the main places I wanted to visit; the Nationalbibliothek Prunksaal, the Papyrus Museum and the Globe Museum. Should I have the time and energy during the coming week, it also allows me entrance to the Esperanto Museum, Literature Museum and House of Austrian History until next Friday.

I started off at the Nationalbibliothek Prunksaal, though before entering the Hofburg I admired the strip of Roman and 18th century remains in the Michaelerplatz in front.

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Words fail me when it comes to describing the Prunksaal, one of the most historic and atmospheric libraries in the world. It was breathtaking! The tiered, ornate wooden bookcases, beautiful leather-bound books, colourful Baroque murals, globes... Even the stepladders, although modern and made of plastic or metal, are painted to fit in perfectly with their surroundings.

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There was a special exhibition on Ludwig van Beethoven, as 2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth. It had a fascinating display of facsimiles and originals of documents relating to nearly every stage and aspect of his life and his relationships with various people, within both his professional and personal life. Pride of place was the original manuscript of his 9th symphony, open at part of the 'Ode to Joy' section. It also had two audios of it which I could listen to with headphones; one a normal recording, and the other a special recording of the same piece but changed to sound how it does to someone with significant hearing loss of the kind that Beethoven had at the time he composed it. Listening to that really made me realise again what a genius he was.

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There were also some separate texts unrelated to Beethoven, such as a richly decorated 16th century copy of the Persian cosmographical text The Wonders of Creation and a facsimile of the Vienna Dioscurides, one of the most famous manuscripts of late antiquity. The main part of it contains a series of images of alphabetically-arranged medicinal plants, with text alongside each one describing it, its medicinal uses and how to prepare it as medicine.

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From the Prunksaal I headed to the Papyrus Museum. This was also very interesting, with a greater variety of artefacts than one might potentially imagine. It ranged from scrolls containing the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Coptic and Islamic amulets intended to protect the carrier against scorpion stings, a spell for the return of a bronze vessel (and curse upon the thief), a scroll containing mathematical exercises, and a set of examples of different languages and writing systems used over the years (e.g, hieroglyphs, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Coptic and Arabic)...

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...to Coptic textile clothing, mummy cartonnages (a type of mask similar to papier maché style, originally made from waste-papyrus but later from linen or plaster), realistic Roman mummy portraits on thin wooden boards, and an extremely rare papyrus contract relating to a Roman Empire trade voyage to India in the 2nd century AD (expeditions to India often left from Egyptian ports on the Red Sea).

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On leaving there I used up some small change on an iced coffee from a handily-placed vending machine and went on an ice cream hunt in the streets surrounding the Hofburg. Amazingly, I was unsuccessful, but as I got a bit further away I made a interesting discovery...

I'd given up on ice cream at this point and was just enjoying wandering the historic streets for a bit before going on to the Globe Museum.

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I suddenly saw the word 'Schotten' on a street sign and this brought to mind the name of the area where I worked in Vienna last year. A beautiful yellow church appeared, I went in to have a look, and it turned out to be part of a working Benedictine monastery. Most of it was closed off behind a metal grid, but through it I still got a good view of the stunning, colourful Baroque interior.

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On reading the blurb they had on display, I found out why it was called the Schottenkirche, or the Church of the Scots - it was founded by Irish Benedictine monks, and apparently the Irish were known as Scots at the time. The blurb mentioned some of the good works the monks are involved in within the Schotten parish, including education.

After lighting a candle in a tiny side chapel and continuing on to the end of the street, I could see that I was indeed back in the area I remembered from April last year. That made me remember the Indian restaurant I went to a couple of times with my colleagues, where you only pay how much you think the food was worth, or you don't have to pay at all if you can't afford it. Since I remembered having a very tasty main dish with rice there, plus a really nice dessert, I thought I'd go there for a late lunch before retracing my steps to the Globe Museum.

The only problem was, I couldn't find it! I'd forgotten what the name was, but knew I'd remember it when I saw it. I thought I remembered seeing it on the edge of the big square I was in, but no sign of it. Either I misremembered the location (always possible) or they've closed down. So I began retracing my steps, taking on my way a picture of the cathedral-like Votivkirche, which overlooks the square. It's named that because it was built in 1879 in thanks for the Emperor's survival of an assassination attempt.

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I stopped at a Billa supermarket and bought a tabbouleh salad instead. Then it was time for the Globe Museum! It was absolutely fascinating. My favourites were the globe from 1492 which naturally doesn't have the Americas or Australasia on it, Mercator's celestial and terrestrial globes from 1542 (and accompanying screen with a virtual copy of the terrestrial one on it which I could move around, zoom in and out of, etc.), a set of very cute 18th century English-made 'pocket globes', massive and richly decorated 17th century Coronelli globes, paper or cloth collapsible globes the user could extend or inflate a bit like an umbrella, and a miniature child's globe, probably Victorian or Edwardian, with an accompanying multi folded paper showing pictures of the world's inhabitants, including a Sandwich Islander, an Esquimaux (sic), an Iroquese (sic), a Scotchman and a Peruvian, dressed according to what Westerners of the time believed was the case.

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It was also very interesting in general to see so many historic terrestrial globes at different points in history, reflecting the current state of geographical knowledge of the world at each stage. The moon globes and globes of different planets were good to see as well.

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I went (almost) straight back to the hostel after that as my back, left side and hip were all protesting, and I was running low on energy again. I did stop at a supermarket and buy a couple of twisty rolls with tomato, cheese and ham on top to have for dinner a bit later, however.

I enjoyed the rolls for dinner and spent time following the BBC Sport live text of the England vs Scotland Six Nations rugby match.

Sunday 9th February (today)

Earlier today I transferred to Hotel Admiral, relaxed, met my colleagues for the coming week and got ready for work tomorrow. For dinner we went to a Mexican place - not a place I would have chosen to go to, but actually I ended up being very glad we'd come. I had a bowl of Crema de Elote (delicious sweetcorn soup), some potato wedges with sour cream, and for pudding Crema de Semola, or semolina pudding in a glass with strawberry sauce on top. Lovely!

Edit from May 2023: I realised a lot later, after having returned from Austria, that the Indian restaurant I was thinking of is actually the Pakistani pay-what-you-can-afford restaurant Der Wiener Deewan - very much still around! If only I'd had a smartphone at the time, I would have found it easily - I wasn't to get one for another six weeks though...

Posted by 3Traveller 19:04 Archived in Austria Tagged churches vienna palace austria museum explorations roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (4)

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