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Working in Vienna

Vienna


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Update from June 2021: The pay-as-you-wish Pakistani restaurant is the famous Der Wiener Deewan. The Sigmund Freud Museum finished its refurbishment and renovation and is fully open again.

I had a busy but interesting and enjoyable week teaching in the historic centre of Vienna.

This is the first of the short contracts this year where I've had to take public transport to school rather than being able to walk. Taking public transport during rush hour every day in work clothes gave me a real sense of being more like a resident rather than a tourist, although clearly this was just a very small taste of that. It's interesting how even something as 'everyday' as the Underground/ metro experience can vary in different countries.

I was thinking of going to the State Opera on Thursday (you can get cheap tickets if you get there early), but in the end I had too much admin to do and homework to mark to be able to go. There are several museums I'd love to have gone to but I would never have had time to fully do them justice, plus I was always so tired, so I left them for a time in the future when I'm in Vienna but not working. It's a shame I had to fly home late Friday afternoon as it meant I had to go straight to the airport after work, with only a quick stop at the hotel to pick up my bags. Otherwise I would have explored the city more and gone to a museum then and on Saturday morning.

One place I did go to was the Sigmund Freud Museum, but the main part of it was closed for refurbishment, so I just saw the temporary two-room exhibition, which focused on the basic details of his life and his psycho-analytical theories. It was still worth seeing, of course, and the ticket price was reduced in light of the situation.

I did go out for lunch with two of the other teachers a couple of times, to the same place; an Pakistani restaurant where you only pay what you can afford and what you think the food was worth. You serve yourself and the whole atmosphere is very casual. On both occasions I had a delicious chicken paprika dish with rice; for dessert there was a type of lovely thick semolina pudding with 'mandeln und mango' - I wondered what 'mandeln' meant, then soon found out it means 'almonds'. They called it 'Halwa' which was interesting - turns out that this is from the same wider halva family of sweets popular in the Middle East, Greece, Turkey and North Africa, though in a form very similar to rice pudding, and semolina-based rather than sesame.

The teaching was enjoyable throughout the week and the final project presentations and Show went very well. I was very impressed with what they managed to achieve with only a week of preparation - very proud.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:33 Archived in Austria Tagged trains vienna austria museum english_teaching unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Highlights of my last two days in Prague

Prague, Prague Airport and London Luton Airport


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I didn't do all that much these last two days - maybe the last six weeks of teaching and travelling had caught up with me rather, and I was in need of a rest. I was happy to relax in the hostel and wander around the Old and Lesser Towns and drop into one or two places I came across, rather than try to fit loads of stuff in.

The Astronomical Clock

Totally stunning, as I expected! Absolutely worth seeing, despite the thronging crowd.

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Bethlehem Chapel

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This medieval religious building, a national cultural monument, is well worth a look inside - though be aware that the main room is one big square hall, not the typical church or chapel interior, so it could seem a bit different to what you might expect. The famous Czech religious reformer, Jan Hus, lived and preached here from 1402 until his excommunication in 1412. He was burned at the stake in 1415, and every year a memorial service is held in this chapel on 5th July, the eve of the anniversary of his death.

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Founded in 1391, it was demolished in the 18th century but then very painstakingly restored in the 1950s using the remnants of the original outer walls. My favourite parts were the wooden features and the wall paintings, especially the musical notation (maybe of plainchant?) Sources seem to conflict about whether the wall paintings are original or not, but either way, they were interesting.

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Adjoining the main hall were some rooms which were originally where the preachers lived, including Jan Hus. They are empty now, save for some displays about the life and times of Jan Hus and one or two cases of artefacts. These artefacts included a 'liber decanorum' annotated by Hus himself, the Prague University foundation charter (1348), and five intriguing 'tiles with Hussite topics'; the ones I took photos of show 'A Hussite commander with a banner-carrier', 'A devil with a woman', 'Adam and Eve in the Paradise' (sic) and 'Three Hussite fighters'.

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Chimney Cake (Trdelník)

I saw a lot of places selling these and they seemed pretty pricey (the equivalent of at least £3.50-£4 for the cheapest version, and I wanted an ice cream-filled one, which cost more) so I um'd and ah'd a bit about getting one, but on actually trying one I realised it was absolutely worth it - bigger and therefore more filling and substantial than I expected, and absolutely delicious! To me it was less like a cake and more like a bun, similar to a Chelsea bun though roughly cone-shaped and with an outer layer of glazed sugar.

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Church of St Nicholas

There are two St Nicholas churches in the centre of Prague and unfortunately I've forgotten which one I went into. In fact, I could actually be wrong about it being one of the St Nicholas churches as the interior decoration doesn't seem to fit either. Maybe if there's someone reading this who is from the area and/or otherwise recognises the church from my pictures below, they could possibly comment to let me know?

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Wandering the streets, Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square

This I enjoyed a lot, just taking in the sunshine, the architecture and the ringing of the trams. The giant gorilla and panda were out again in the Old Town Square, this time accompanied by a polar bear and a couple of human statues.

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My Air Bagan flight on the 9th wasn't until 22:35, so I didn't arrive at Luton Airport until 23:40 GMT. A very smooth-running flight with no issues at all. To avoid the steep pick-up charge, I walked out of the airport and Dave picked me up from outside a nearby hotel instead.

Posted by 3Traveller 19:36 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged churches prague airport museum czech_republic explorations astronomical_clock unesco_world_heritage_site czech_cuisine Comments (2)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Prague

Prague

Update from April 2021: It turns out that the statue was of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the co-founder and first President of Czechoslovakia, and 7th March was his birthday. That explains the military ceremony I saw in front of his statue...

Time for a wander through the Old and New Towns to Prague Castle!

It was cloudy to begin with but the sun started to come out as I crossed the Vltava River via the famous 14th-century Charles Bridge.

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I took my time crossing, taking in the views and admiring some of the statues along each side.

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The latter included the 17th-century statue of St John of Nepomuk, who is said to bring good luck to those who touch him. Parts of the metal plinth decoration were shiny from years of people's touches.

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On the New Town end of the bridge I crossed a small canal.

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From there I passed through the archway of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and made my way gradually up the hill to the castle. The architecture was just as impressive as in the Old Town. It was exhilarating to wander up the cobbled streets in the cold sunshine, trams passing by, colour on all sides.

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Eventually I reached the foot of the castle complex. A violinist serenaded passers-by as I stopped for a little rest and had a look at a little war memorial set into the wall.

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Before reaching the castle entrance at the very top of the hill, there was a terrace with some stunning views over the city.

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A little further up, in the big square in front of the complex, I unexpectedly caught a small military ceremony in front of a statue. I'm not sure what the occasion was... it's not a public holiday today.

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Immediately after that I unexpectedly caught another military ceremony... the Changing of the Guard. I stood near Matthias Gate (the entrance to the courtyard) - I saw soldiers marching in, couldn't see much of what subsequently happened within the courtyard, but did get a good view of when the guards came back out to change positions within their pillboxes by the Gate. (No pictures of the ceremony, unfortunately, as I only took videos and I can't load them here without them already being on YouTube or Vimeo.)

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My first stop within the castle complex was the magnificent Gothic and Neo-Gothic St Vitus Cathedral.

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Work began on the present-day cathedral in 1344, but it wasn't finished and consecrated until 1929! The more modern blends seamlessly into the old; examples of the new include some of the many stained glass windows, such as the Creation Rose Window (Frantisek Kysela: 1925) and those within a series of chapels in the Neo-Gothic part of the cathedral. The New Archbishop Chapel contains one designed by the Art Nouveau decorative artist Alphonse Mucha in 1930, which shows Christianity being introduced to the Slavic peoples via Saints Cyril & Methodius (I remember these two from my time in Bulgaria).

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My other favourite stained glass windows, both old and new, include the following:

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I spent quite a while just wandering around, taking in the beauty and the atmospheric nature of my surroundings.

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Special mention to the stunning St Wenceslas Chapel, focal point and cult centre of the cathedral; I admired the 14th-century wall paintings of the Passion Cycle, amongst other magnificent decoration.

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On my exit from the cathedral I had a good look at the decoration of the chapel's exterior entrance.

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My ticket allowed me entrance to four attractions within Prague Castle. With St Vitus Cathedral being the first, the Old Royal Palace next door took my fancy next. Of special interest to me was the room in which the most famous Defenestration of Prague took place, in 1618 (the spark which ignited the Thirty Years' War). I was interested to find out that the victims actually survived - I'd always assumed that they'd died in the fall. We weren't allowed to take photos here or in the adjoining rooms, but we were in the nearby Vladislav Hall.

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My next stop was St George's Basilica; founded in 920, enlarged in 973 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1147, it's one of the oldest buildings in the castle complex.

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After that I moved on to the Golden Lane, which is a street of small historic houses first built for castle guards in the 16th century. Craftsmen moved into the houses after about half a century - including goldsmiths, who gave the street its name. These craftsmen in turn left, however, and in the 19th century the street became a slum, inhabited by poor workers and artists. The houses were lived in right up to 1939 - the writer Franz Kafka lived in one of them for a couple of years during the First World War. Most of them are souvenir shops now, but there were a couple of museum houses too, set up to look how they did when craftsmen or notable inhabitants were living in them over the last couple of hundred years.

Before I had a look at any of the houses, however, I looked round the medieval armoury museum and a former dungeon, both of which are contained within 14th-century fortifications accessed through Golden Lane.

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In one of the long underground corridors in the fortifications I got to try out a crossbow!

Once back up at ground level I walked down the Golden Lane, peering in at the museum houses.

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Before I left the castle grounds I managed some photos of an amazing view over the castle gardens and the city beyond.

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A cat kept tabs on me from a first floor window as I retraced my steps down the hill to the river and Old Town.

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I was knackered by now, and hungry because I hadn't had any lunch, so although it was only about 4pm I decided to have a very early dinner at a restaurant there and then, with the plan to subsequently get a sandwich or other bakery item from a supermarket to have at the hostel later. I decided on Czech goulash with dumplings and red onion - I was surprised at the dumplings, as they were more like slices of bread than the dumplings I've had elsewhere, but it was all very tasty anyway.

I passed through the Old Town Square on my way back to the hostel. Street performers were there in giant fluffy panda and gorilla suits, playing around with members of the public who wanted photos with them. They were very amusing, but I didn't hang around for long as I was so keen to get back and flop at the hostel. The famous astronomical clock is to one side of the square, but I decided to leave that until the next day.

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Posted by 3Traveller 09:25 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged bridges churches prague museum czech_republic explorations fortifications changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site czech_cuisine Comments (1)

Medical history, UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Berlin Wall

Berlin


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First up for me today was the fascinating Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité.

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This is not one of the most well-known museums in Berlin but is extremely interesting for anyone with an interest in the history of medicine; not just due to the artifacts and specimens in the display rooms, but also to the human stories brought to life in the historical patient's ward and to the history of the Charité itself. It was founded as a plague hospital in 1710 and is now one of the largest university hospitals in Europe.

The first thing I saw was a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Enlightenment, which contained such intriguing objects as a puffed-up porcupine fish, a cow bezoar (used as an antidote for various ailments in the past), polished turquoise abalone, a chicken head with chickenpox, the upper jaw bone of a walrus with tusks, a juvenile land tortoise, a mummy of a juvenile turtle and the mouth of a quillfish.

Other fascinating objects in the room included a human skeleton with scoliosis, another with severe syphilitic bone malformations, and a special moulage collection from 1900 - wax casts of diseased faces, with an emphasis on diseased eyes - very gruesome.

There was also a very interesting yet sobering display on the terrible aberrations of German medicine under National Socialism, such as human experimentation in concentration camps.

The specimen room next door was also fascinating. The specimens included deformed human foetuses, a human skeleton damaged by plasmacytoma, and skulls showing microcephaly (underdevelopment of the brain, causing a shorter-than-usual head) and anencephaly (absence of the brain). It was good to see the great lengths the museum have gone to acknowledge with respect the people behind the specimens over the last 200 years.

In addition to the historical patients' ward, which in an informative and touching manner told the case histories and the hospital treatment of several patients at the Charité over the last 300 years, I looked round the preserved ruin of a historic lecture hall which was bombed during the war.

From the medical museum I took the U-Bahn to a UNESCO World Heritage Site - one of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. Although I don't know much about Modernism I enjoyed wandering round.

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From there it was another U-Bahn trip to the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the Berlin Wall covered in a graffiti project from street artists.

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The sun was starting to get low as I left the East Side Gallery and made my way back to my hostel via the U-Bahn and a supermarket.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:36 Archived in Germany Tagged art buildings germany museum berlin berlin_wall unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

German Historical Museum and the DDR Museum

Berlin


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I had two main destinations planned for today - the German Historical Museum and the DDR Museum, which lie on each side of Museum Island - but on my way there I stopped at the St Marienkirche, a redbrick Gothic church which dates back to the 13th century but was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in WWII and was therefore restored in the 1950s by East Germany.

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Then I crossed the Spree and Museum Island, passing the Dom and the Lustgarten.

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The German Historical Museum was absolutely excellent; I highly recommend it. It spans a total of 1500 years of German history up until soon after German reunification. My favourite artifacts were:

A full suit of medieval plate armour, brandishing a sword while seated on a horse wearing a full suit of horse armour.

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Medieval painted shields made of wood, leather and metal (there was a full row of cases of them; my photo is of only one section.)

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An oliphant, an ivory hunting horn used by the high nobility during a hunt. The ornamentation suggests that it was manufactured in an Islamic country and imported to the West. Dates from 1000 AD.

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A medieval abacus from Northern Italy.

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The 'Grüninger Hand', a 15th century prosthetic arm probably made for a high-ranking knight who had lost his right lower arm in battle. Its age and relative sophistication makes it very rare; it allowed the wearer to bring his artificial elbow into six different positions and move his fingers together by pressing a button.

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Woodcuts from a book of traditional women's costumes published in Nuremberg in 1586, meant to complement a book on craftsmen's trades.

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A birdlike plague-doctor's mask and gown. Although this is the famous image most people have in mind when they think of the plague in early modern Europe, there are apparently only three or four surviving examples of what the plague-doctors wore.

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A 1740 map of North and South America with 30 scenes of the discovery of the Americas.

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Paintings of a court dwarf and the composer Georg Friedrich Handel, from 1680 and 1733 respectively.

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An 18th century gaming table with three games: billiards, Japanese billiards (a precursor of modern pinball) and cannons.

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Napoleon Buonaparte's bicorne hat and sword from the Battle of Waterloo.

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While I was in the museum the clouds had cleared up and it was nice and sunny as I walked back past the Lustgarten and Dom to the DDR Museum. I had a great view of the famous Berlin television tower.

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The DDR Museum took me in an entertaining and fascinating journey through daily life within socialist East Germany during the Cold War. I learned about what kindergarten, school and university was like, common jobs and how much you could earn for each one, and what kind of holidays people took (nudist ones appear to have been especially popular.) I got to look at an original, iconic Trabant P601 car (children can go on simulated drives) and walk round a reconstructed, fully furnished tower block flat. In the latter's living room I saw the TV programme for this day in 1984.

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Something still fascinating, but sobering and sinister rather than entertaining, was the information and exhibits relating to the surveillance citizens were placed under by the Stasi (secret police).

After leaving the museum I stopped at a supermarket to pick up a couple of savoury bakery items and a tub of creme caramel to have for dinner later, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing at the hostel.

Posted by 3Traveller 03:40 Archived in Germany Tagged churches germany museum berlin cathedral Comments (0)

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