A Travellerspoint blog

The Hapsburgs' Summer Palace

You know, like the lake house . . . . only bigger.

sunny 19 °C
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Hello friends,

First of all, welcome to the world Finleigh Amelia Burns, new daughter of Cindy and Mark Burns (and sister to Ainsley and Kenzie)! We are looking forward to meeting you!

Friday in Vienna was spent mostly at Schönbrunn Palace, the summer palace of the Hapsburgs. It was just like the lake house, only a little bit bigger, as you can see here:


We now have big plans for what to do with our "summer palace"! (Joseph wants to build a replica of the Gloriette -- a sort of Roman Imperial set of triumphal arches to mark the end of the formal garden).

We toured the apartments, first of Franz Josef and Elizabeth (Sissy), and then those of Maria Theresa and her children. For the absolute monarch of a substantial empire, Franz Josef seems to have lived a relatively spartan existence, devoted to his duty as first public servant of the Empire. The audioguide aims to humanize and contextualize the sights by talking mostly about the family life of the royals. Joseph wanted to hear more about the history of the Hapsburg monarchy, but how many political theory professors do they really get here?

We tried hard to explain to the children the significance of what they were seeing. It was a little dispiriting that, by the late afternoon, neither child could come up with the name "Hapsburg" when asked whose palace we were in! At least Margaret remembered some of the first names. Still, we're working on them.

Margaret has announced several times that she wants to live in a palace. She particularly likes the Baroque rooms, with cream or yellow silks and gilt plaster ornamentation. Frescoes on the ceiling are a plus. We've tried to explain that living that way seems to get you conquered and marginalized by the hungrier and more powerful (the fate of the dukes of Saxony, whose residences we visited in Dresden), or forced into exile by the people (the Hapsburgs), or guillotined. Those considerations seem to move her not at all. So instead, we've taken to explaining that if she wants to afford to live in such style, she'll have to found the next Google. And to do that, she'll really need to work on her math!

After the palace, we had our bag lunch on a bench in the garden and strolled around the grounds. October is clearly not the best time to visit in order to see formal gardens, since the landscapers were digging up some of the dying plantings (if you look closely in the picture, above, you can see some of the upturned mounds of dirt), but the place was far less crowded than it would have been had we been here in August. The spectacular Neptune fountain was still running, which pretty much made up for the less than splendid flowers in the gardens.

For John, the highlight of the day — it was possibly the highlight of the whole trip for him — was our visit to the hedge maze in the palace gardens. Actually there were three mazes. One was a fully grown hedge maze, leading to an elevated observation platform in the center (from which this photo was taken):


The second was a recently-planted hedge maze, with a number of games located throughout (including a dance-glockenspiel, a fountain that visitors could make spray with a sort of see-saw, and a footbridge that sprayed water on the feet of the unwary). And there was a third maze, of vines, with more games and puzzles, and, after that, an elaborate modern playground. Check out this piece of equipment — I'm sure the tort lawyers would have a field day with this one in the USA:


Last was our visit to the Apfelstrudel-making demonstration. Turns out apple strudel is much easier to make than one might have thought -- and, at least as the Viennese make it, it also involves rum.

After our return to "home base" here, we walked through a local produce market and salivated over all the fresh and dried fruits, the olives, the assortment of cured meats and cheeses, not to mention the baked breads. But rather than a picnic dinner, we ate at a relatively inexpensive restaurant, sitting outside and enjoying schnitzel, goulash -- and local beer.

We ended the night with an organ concert at the Augustinian church near the "city" palace of the Hapsburgs. There is nothing quite like listening to a ten minute lecture on the music you're about to hear in a language you cannot understand. Joseph professes to have understood every third word or so, but he didn't get much out of it either.

The performers were essentially grad students in music, and they were fine (playing three pieces by Messiaen), but they weren't as good as the organist we saw in Haarlem, nor was the organ quite as fine. At least Joseph enjoyed it.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Posted by jrreisert 00:27 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (0)


Where they have a public toilet that blasts opera

sunny 16 °C
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Hello all,

We arrived in Vienna yesterday afternoon (Thursday). We are at breakfast now at our "pension," a bed and breakfast kind of place very close to the Opera. It's great to be in the middle of everything, although the "apartment" that we rented isn't really an apartment at all, just a collection of rooms that share a bathroom. There is a small fridge and a coffee maker, but that's about it. We had a very interesting picnic in our apartment last night. Oh, well. On the bright side (and, as they taught us in Spamalot, ALWAYS look at the bright side of life . . . ), it is big and right in the middle of everything.

We have already seen (but not visited) one of the public toilets with opera blasting out of it. But, I guess it is not the most famous one. With John with us, I'm sure it won't be long before we find it. John loves checking out the local "facilities." We also think this will be a great place to work on our family travel opera. More on that later.

We are looking forward to an exciting day of exploring. We will try to up-date with photos this evening.

Have a great day and, DON'T watch the news!!!!

Auf Wiedersehen!


Posted by jrreisert 23:35 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Farewell to Prague

Lions and Tigers and Tour Groups, Oh My!

overcast 12 °C
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Dear Friends,

Our last day in Prague was very nice, not quite as plagued by tour groups, but still there were plenty around. I'm writing this brief up-date before we head to Vienna. We expect that we can add photos when we arrive in Vienna.

We started off in Wenceslas Square (you know, the guy from the Christmas song) and checked out the great "square" (really a boulevard) where Czechs demanded their freedom in 1989.

We also visited the Tyn Church, where Hussites stripped the church, but then the Hapsburgs reacted in remarkably strong fashion by larding it up with Baroque ornamentation. Margaret liked it. I did not. But, at least there was not a holy bearded woman on a cross.

Then, we took in some Gothic art at the St. Agnes Convent. The arrangement was really very nice, although they made a strong note of denouncing the Hussites.

By lunchtime, the weather looked promising. The sky had cleared and it was quite warm. So, we decided to have our picnic lunch. Joe wanted to march us across the river, but the rest of us protested and resisted. We ended up eating lunch on a bench next to a very busy road. So what that we were enveloped in exhaust fumes. We descended on lunch like a plague of locusts.

After lunch, we ventured to the funicular to go to an observation tower on a hill. But, the funicular was closed for repairs! They really know how to take the "fun" out of funicular! So, how to respond??? By marching up that hill! Which we did. But, by the time we got to the top, we were behind schedule. John agreed to go to the maze, but to give up climbing the tower.

Then, it was time to go back to Prague Castle. We explored quite a lot of the Castle. It is enormous! We especially like the "story of Prague" display, with some very, very old artifacts.

We ended the afternoon with a stroll over the Charles Bridge just after sunset. Really, really lovely.

Now, we are off to Vienna. We'll send more later!

Hope all is well with you!

Na Shledanou!


Posted by jrreisert 23:30 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

The Many Faces of Prague

Solemn Sites, Prague Castle, a holy Bearded Woman and some laundry

overcast 14 °C
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Dear Friends,

Let’s get the negative things out of the way first:

1. They have as much difficulty predicting/describing the weather here as they do in London (and in Maine!). Today, the forecast was for bright, sunny and warm. Well, it was pretty warm—for October—but, for a good three-quarters of the day we didn’t even see a hint of blue sky. Just gray, overcast and drizzly.

Here’s Joe enjoying a “beautiful” day in Prague:


2. Tour groups have become the bane of our existence. We have been encountering tour groups all along our journey, but nothing like here in Prague. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like here in the summer. We can’t go anywhere, do anything, without a tour group or, more accurately, tour groups, getting in our way or making things difficult. The tour groups are of two distinct kinds—school groups (mostly German and Russian) and older people (no surprise there). They are literally everywhere in this city, in large, sprawling pods that take over sidewalks and pathways. Ugh!

The rest of our experience has been quite delightful. The language barrier is even more stark here, as Czech is a Slavic language. Except for the outright English (and there is a fair amount of that), it is very difficult to recognize words and phrases. On Monday, we finally brought our laundry to the closest Laundromat. The woman at the counter did not know English. You should have seen the interaction with her! From what we could see, the possibility of doing the laundry ourselves was nonexistent. But, dropping off meant trying to figure out when it would be done and when we could pick it up, etc. One hand signal seemed clear: did we want our clothing ironed? Anyway, the long and short of it was that we could not get our laundry back the same day; we would have to wait a day. Since I had put our jammies in with the laundry (they hadn’t been washed since we left!!), I wasn’t too happy about that. But, there wasn’t a darn thing that could be done. It’s all part of the adventure!

We’ve spent a lot of time just wandering around Prague. We have taken a walking tour of the Old City. On Monday, we spent a lot of time exploring the Jewish Quarter, including Maisel synagogue (any relation, Sandy?). The Jewish sites were very moving. We had considered visiting a concentration camp not far from Prague, but we don’t think John could take it. At the Pinkas Synagogue, which contains the handwritten names of the Jews from Prague and the Czech Republic who were sent to the gas chambers at concentration camps (almost 78,000 of them), I thought that John would just break down and cry. The only thing them kept him from breaking down, probably, were the tour groups. This time, there were school groups and another group of people insisting on taking photos (despite the clear signs that indicate that the taking of photos is prohibited). They dispelled the solemn and serious nature of the display.

Here is a photo of the Jewish Cemetery:


Later that day, we also went to a Prague mall. Lots of predictable stores, although the food looked a lot more interesting. And guess what? Lots of groups of roaming teenagers. Some things are the same everywhere.

On Tuesday, we went to the Castle section of town, exploring the Strahov Monastery, the Loreta Church, and part of Prague Castle.

Here is a photo of Joe, Margaret and John at the main entrance of the Castle:


The Loreta Church contains one of the most disturbing “mini-chapels” I have ever seen. It’s the chapel of the St. Bearded Woman, the patron saint of unhappy marriages. The story goes that a woman, whose family arranged for her to marry a pagan man, prayed for an escape and . . . . she sprouted a beard! And the guy said, “No Way.” She avoided marriage, but angered her father who crucified her. Next to the crucified bearded woman are two forearms. We couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to symbolize. Very disturbing.

[Every time we go to a baroque church, Susan starts muttering things like: "Jan Hus was right" and "you know, the iconoclasts were really on to something" — ed.]

After exploring a bit of the castle, we went to the train station to buy tickets for Vienna (we leave on Thursday). The train station was another “highlight.” When Joe went up to the counter for “international tickets,” he was told that he would need the exact train number, etc. The woman didn’t have a computer or anything! Thankfully, our guidebook “friend” included information about a very helpful shop at the train station which would be able to help with train tickets. We found them and, indeed, they were very helpful not only in getting us train tickets for Thursday, but also for getting seat reservations for our trip from Salzburg to Venice.

We then returned to the flat, going by the laundry place first to see if we would actually see our clothing again. And, ta da! Our clothing was there, clean and folded. The woman at the counter this time could speak a little English.

On Wednesday, our last full day in Prague, we will return to the Castle. We’ll also try to squeeze in some other sites that we would like to see.


And now for some thoughts from John: I am in the Czech Republic. I can’t understand anything here. I’m trying to learn how to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “hot chocolate.” Those are the most important things, other than “wc” (which means bathroom). I have visited LOTS of wc’s in Europe. In Prague, there’s a cool astronomical clock and it rings on the hour with a skeleton named death ringing his little bell. While death is ringing the bell, he is telling the saints that your time is up. And the saints are saying that there is life after death.

Here is a photo of the astronomical clock as a whole:


Here's a detail of Death ringing his bell:


And another of the open doors with the saints parading by (see St. Peter with the keys):


Posted by jrreisert 23:45 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

A Visit to Prague’s Old City . . .

. . . And to the giant Tesco department store

overcast 12 °C
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We are definitely not the most efficient sight-seers. We have discovered that all of our stops share a recognizable pattern. We arrive, exhausted by the stress of traveling, and after unpacking, spend a few hours walking around our neighborhood to get our bearings. Our first night, we found the local convenience stores, the walking route to the tram lines and metro, and we walked to Prague’s other castle, Vysehrad (it is near our flat). We were too late to explore the museum of the fortifications, but we got some good views from the top of the walls and took a look at the church and historical cemetery.

Here's a shot of the four of us on the wall, with the Moldau River below and behind us:


Yesterday, we went down to breakfast at the Lida guesthouse where we chatted some with a few of the other guests — overwhelmingly Americans and overwhelmingly readers of Rick Steeves (who recommends the place highly in his Prague book). Most of the other visitors seem to be retirees, although there was another family with a school-aged child taking advantage of the excellent fall weather to visit Europe.

We took the tram into the old city to get a look at some of the “must see” sights and to get our bearings. As we wandered among the crowds on the Charles Bridge and then among the crowds in the old market square, we recognized the same “first full day in a new place” feeling we’ve felt before: we felt overwhelmed. With so much to see and do, it was hard to decide where to begin and what to see first. Here's emperor Charles, who stands guard at the Old City end of his eponymous bridge:


In the end, we ambled around the bridge, looked through some of the crafts and drawings for sale, listened to street music (a band improbably playing American Dixieland music, with lyrics in Czech). After the bridge, we climbed the bridge tower, which was probably not worth it, although it did serve to distract John from the nearby “museum of torture implements,” which he really wanted to see. Here's a nice shot from the tower:


We wandered over to the market square, through some tourist-trap shops. Arriving just about at noon, we joined the massive crowd to see the historical astronomical clock do its thing. From our vantage point, we could see Death ring the bell, but we missed out on the rest of the show. We’ll try to do better later in our stay.

So we wandered over the Jan Hus memorial, and snapped yet another photo of Susan standing in front of a favorite Protestant (or in the case of Hus, pre-Protestant) reformer.


We sat in the square and had our picnic lunch. Then the “overwhelmed” feeling set in. We looked into getting a tour of the Old Town Hall (to see, among other things, the workings of the astronomical clock), but the only English language tour was at 4. So we wandered among the narrow streets full of shops, looking for embroidered patches (which we are collecting) and for some cold weather clothes for Margaret, who has made clear that she needs more warm things.

As you can see, Margaret’s facial expressions can be very expressive. Can’t you just hear her asking, you want me to walk how far?


And here's another (from our first day) of Margaret showing her feelings about the just-completed long walk:


Not knowing quite what else to do, we took a Prague Walks tour of the historic medieval city. It was just the four of us, which meant that we could stop and ask lots of questions. Our guide was very knowledgeable and shared some interesting stories about life under the Communists (which he was old enough to remember first-hand) but he spoke with a strong accent and the children had trouble understanding him.

I had hoped to go on the 4 pm tour of the Old City Hall, but we were all too tired for more organized touring at that point, so we resumed our quest for warm clothing for Margaret. At first, we wandered through the narrow, shop-filled streets, but after a while the shops are all the same: t-shirts, Czech beer, glassware, t-shirts, beer, glassware, etc.

Somehow, our footsteps headed towards the giant Tesco department store in the New City (which should really be called the “less old” city, since it was new in the fourteenth century. For the record, the girls’ clothing seemed mostly trampy and inappropriate — tight-fitting, garishly colored, and often adorned with inappropriately suggestive sayings (in English!). In the end, we found a scarf for Margaret in the men’s department.

Susan, of course, had engineered our visit to the Tesco in order to go to the supermarket there. It is always a challenge to shop in a foreign supermarket, though the Tesco, being owned by a British firm, offered a number of products with English-language labels. We assembled the fixings for three dinners and a number of lunches for about what we spent on our relatively inexpensive dinner out last night. We could have saved more, but we splurged on real Skippy peanut butter (about $5) and Patak’s Tikka Masala sauce (almost $10!). We might not have tried cooking Indian food if we had really focused on the price, but we’re still not really used to thinking in Czech crowns, and only worked out the US dollar cost later.

We got the kids in bed early (8pm) in the hope that John would shake his cold and that the rest of us would be spared from getting it. We’re plotting out our next few days and are even thinking about adding an extra day in the Czech Republic — in part because we like it so much here, and in part because our accommodations here are much cheaper than our hotel in our next planned stop, Vienna.

This morning (Monday), we got our laundry packed up and we headed for the laundromat. We expected to find a big, American-style self-service laundry. Instead, we basically just had to drop all our clothes off with the woman there, who spoke no English. We believe that we are getting our clothes back tomorrow, after 2 pm, not-ironed. Or maybe not. Since we were expecting to do the laundry ourselves, we pretty much put everything we have into the laundry bags, which means that we are going to be wearing most of today's clothes again tomorrow. Oh, well: "it's all part of the adventure."

Margaret is working on some pre-algebra this morning, while John is doing some spelling and work on measurement. Then more on their journals. After an early lunch, we'll head back into the Old City.


Posted by jrreisert 00:39 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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