A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: 3Traveller

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.


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.


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!


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.


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


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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


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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)...


...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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 (2)

Der Liebe Augustin and a dressed skeleton

Bratislava and Vienna

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I arrived by bus from Bratislava at lunchtime - a smooth journey of an hour and ten minutes, including a stop at Vienna Airport. One notable thing about the journey was that not far from Bratislava and the border with Austria we passed by what must be one of the biggest wind farms in Europe. After taking the tram to Wombat's The City Hostel Lounge, dumping my stuff and putting on the bedding, I took the metro into the city centre.

The first place I went to was to Griechenbeisl, the oldest restaurant in Vienna - not to eat, but to say hello to Der Liebe Augustin in the covered walkway to one side. Who is that, you might ask... well, he's a life-size figure/puppet of a folk-figure of Vienna, who is said to be based on a real-life, popular bagpiper, minstrel and balladeer from the 17th century (the traditional song, 'O, du lieber Augustin', is attributed to him). The effigy at Griechenbeisl lies in a pit with a grate over the top which you can look through. He sits in a chair with his bagpipes and a small table, covered in hundreds of small coins and some banknotes which people have dropped through the grate. My photo of him didn't come out right, unfortunately.


From there I went on to the church of St Ruprecht via a street stall for some Asian noodles with vegetables for a late-ish lunch (I had a sudden craving!) St Ruprecht's is said to be the oldest church in Vienna, though apparently this is disputed.


It's also known for having a glass-fronted sarcophagus of St Vitalis of Salzburg with a skeleton dressed in Baroque clothes inside. I was particularly keen to see it and asked a helpful member of church staff to tell me about it. He said that it's not uncommon for Baroque churches in cities formerly under Habsburg influence to have dressed skeletons on display, put there in the 17th century as a result of the type of Catholicism practised then. The skeleton at St Ruprecht's is of a claimed early Christian martyr taken from the Roman catacombs.


There was a candle stand next to the sarcophagus, so I lit two candles. I also admired the modern stained glass windows and the carved wooden figures which looked a lot like some Early Modern examples I saw in the City Museum in Bratislava.


On my way back to the metro station by the Stephansdom I passed the Anker Clock. This is a highly elaborate, historic clock with figures on the face which move around to music when each hour strikes. I wasn't there at the right time to see the 'show', but maybe tomorrow!


Posted by 3Traveller 17:38 Archived in Austria Tagged churches bratislava vienna austria buses traditions slovakia explorations Comments (2)

The City Museum in the Old Town Hall


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Today I finally made it to the City Museum in the Old Town Hall!

The tower was open, luckily, although the wind was still quite strong. There were some great views of the Old Town and I was very glad I'd finally made it up there.


On the way down from the top of the tower I stopped to look at Dr Ovidius Faust's Study. Dr Faust was the town archivist in the inter-war period and was also a scholar and passionate book collector.


The Archive Room is in the same museum; all the most important documents of the town were kept there from the mid-18th century to 1948. They are stored elsewhere now, but some of them were on display, along with some facsimiles. I also admired the original iron door which is still in use, dates from 1749 and has extremely fancy Rococo decoration.


Adjoining the Archive Room were the richly decorated Court House and Hall of the Extended Municipal Council.


Above the gate to the Town Hall was the St Ladislaus' Chapel, the 15th-century chapel of the municipal council.


In the exhibition rooms in the rest of the museum, something intriguing which kept popping up without much explanation was painted circular wooden shooting targets, mostly with bullet holes still in. They had a range of quite detailed scenes, painted in oils and dating between 1790 - 1840.


I wondered why people would bother decorating targets in such detail only then to shoot at them. I finally got a little more information about them when I reached the section on various clubs and associations which the townspeople joined from the late 18th century onwards and came across the Shooters Club. This club actually had its origins in the 16th century as an association of volunteers formed to provide defence for the town, but in the late 18th century it began to lose its defensive function and became focused on competitive leisure activities such as free-shooting, bird shooting and target shooting. Shooting contests were very important, grand events and artists began to get commissions to paint targets for them.

Regarding other clubs, apparently male voice choirs became very popular in the 19th century, as did the Cycling Club; on display were a wooden-wheeled early velocipede and a penny-farthing. I was surprised to hear about the male voice choirs because I'd only heard of Welsh ones before.


Bratislava, or Pressburg as it was known then, was a town of guilds until the 19th century, and reflecting that was a collection of various items relating to them, e.g. copperware, stamps, fine wooden coffers, etc.


There was a section on the coronation town which Pressburg became for about three hundred years until the 1848 revolution. I was glad to get information about why Pressburg had become the seat of coronation for so many Hungarian kings, because on Monday I didn't see much explanation about it at the cathedral where the coronations happened.

Other highlights for me were some glass paintings which used to be in St Martin's Cathedral, an 18th-century polychrome woodcarving of St Florian, 19th-century musical instruments, an Early Modern special security door of extraordinary intricacy of mechanism, an exhibition of gruesome instruments of torture in the former prison cells, some original painted metal inn and shop signs, a 19th century box of board games and some early 20th century advertising leaflets for household products.


The museum was bigger than I expected, and I'm still recovering from my illness in Basel, so I was completely drained by the time I finished. Too drained to seek out the Jewish Museum, so instead of that I walked to the edge of the Danube (very swift-running today) and pondered transport to Vienna tomorrow. I saw one place that said it did Bratislava to Vienna boat trips, but it looked a bit deserted, plus I'd heard that a trip would cost about 30 euros which seemed a bit expensive, so when I got to the bus station I arrived at on Sunday and noticed a sign advertising bus tickets to Vienna for 5 euros, I decided to go with that instead.

After a long-ish rest at the hostel I went out for dinner. It was 7 p.m. but I was almost the only person there; not always a good sign, unless it's the custom in Slovakia not to eat until later in the evening, but at this place the food was good. I didn't feel like a big meal so I stuck with some garlic cream soup in bread - a big hollowed-out crispy roll with the top cut off as a lid and the soup inside - and for pudding, a parené buchty - a giant sweet steamed dumpling with chocolate sauce and icing sugar on top and with jam or custard inside (I've forgotten which).


I did take a picture of the parené buchty too but it came out too blurry to include, unfortunately.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:57 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bratislava museum slovakia clock_tower river_danube slovakian_cuisine Comments (0)

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