|On our drive through Austria towards Vienna (and also back into Hungary), we drove by fields of rapeseed flowers. They were just gorgeous. Rapeseed is grown for the production of animal feed, vegetable oil for human consumption, and biodiesel.|
|More rapeseed fields as seen from the highway.|
On April 25th, we decided to visit the Schönbrunn Palace. It was the former summer residence of the Habsburg family and is one of Europe's most impressive Baroque palace complexes.
Here's a very brief history: Records go back to 1569, when Roman Emperor Maximilian II built a mansion to host hunting expeditions where Schönbrunn Palace now stands. Thereafter, the land had a tumultuous history and it wasn't until Emperor Charles VI acquired Schönbrunn in 1728 and then made it a gift to his daughter, Maria Theresa, that the palace took form as it is seen today. During Maria Theresa's reign, the palace became the center of court and political life. Under her personal influence and the supervision of the architect, Nikolaus Pacassi, the once hunting lodge was rebuilt and extended into a palatial residence. Work on the unfinished building began in the winter of 1742/43 and eventually culminated into a huge rebuilding project which gave the palace the appearance it largely retains to this day.
Following the sudden death of Maria Theresa's husband, Emperor Franz Stephan, in 1765, a new phase of refurbishment and alterations ensued. The widowed empress had several rooms in the east wing of the palace appointed as memorial rooms and spared no expense in fitting them out with precious Chinese lacquer panels and costly wooden paneling which have been preserved to this day and can be seen on the palace tour.
The last project initiated by Maria Theresa, during the 1770s, was the designing and laying out of the gardens under the supervision of court architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, who constructed architectural features in the park such as the Gloriette, the Neptune Fountain, the Roman Ruin and the Obelisk Fountain. In addition, the garden avenues, fountains and open spaces were enhanced with statues and sculptures in the antique style executed by Wilhelm Beyer and his studio. The remodeling of the palace and gardens was not finally completed until just before Maria Theresa's death in 1780.
|Having just walked through the main gates, this is the view as one walks towards Schönbrunn Palace. It was an overcast day so was difficult to get a good photo.|
We had to wait about an hour before we could start our tour of the palace so we found a restaurant for lunch (as we are so apt to do). After lunch, we went directly to the tour which included an audioguide and was actually a great way to go through the rooms at one's own pace. Taking photographs of the palace rooms was not allowed so if interested, one can see photos of the rooms on the tour (and more) by clicking here.
Once we finished the tour, the kids wanted to find the maze, labyrinth and playground. We headed towards that section of the gardens and here are a few photos I took of the park along the way.
|A view of Neptunbrunnen (Neptune Fountain) (center) and Gloriette up on the hill.|
|We arrived during the peak tulip blooming period. There were many extremely tall manicured hedges, trees and mature vines that had been topped off giving the feeling of walls framing the garden "avenues".|
|Najadenbassin (Naiads Basin).|
|An enticing feature of the show was that one received an apple strudel sample to eat while watching someone make more apple strudel.|
|A belvedere for Schönbrunn Hill was intended as the crowning touch to the palatial Baroque ensemble in Leopold I's time back in the late1600s, but it was not until Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg remodelled the park that this project was finally realised. The early classicistic colonnaded Gloriette was built to Hohenberg's designs on the crest of the hill in 1775.|
|The broad reaching view from the Gloriette's panorama terrace.|
|A whimsical wisteria tunnel that emitted an exquisite perfumed scent.|
|Lobby of the Technisches Museum: Construction of the building started in 1909 and the museum was opened in 1918. It obviously has been renovated and updated since then.|
|So far so good. Well, that was until Molly lunged and barked at the passenger wearing a hood (startling everyone on the bus in the process). Paul had to turn her around so she was facing James and wouldn't see people passing by.|
|Mariahilfer Kirche (Church): It is a Baroque church originally built in 1686–1689, but redesigned in 1711–1715. In front of the church is a statue of the composer, Josef Haydn.|
|This equestrian accordian player was busking just outside of the Museum Quartier.|
|Walking along Babenbergerstrasse: Any tree that could be in bloom was blooming. Vienna was so green and the buildings so beautiful. This is one of my favorite cities in Europe.|
|Mozart Denkmal statue in the Burggarten (Castle Park) located next to the Hofburg Palace.|
|The organ has been an important feature of St Stephen's since the 14th century. After the fire of 1945, Michael Kauffmann built a large electric organ with 125 voices and 4 manuals (completed in 1960).|
|The Pestsäule (plague Column) located on the Graben: It was erected to commemorate the end of one of the last big plagues to hit Europe and Vienna (1679).|
|Peterskirche (St Peters) is a baroque Roman Catholic parish located on Petersplatz next to the Graben. While other churches sat on this location, the current building was consecrated in 1733. It was the first domed structure in Vienna.|
|The highly decorated interior of St Peters is stunning. It contains a lot of fine artwork from the early 18th century, including frescoes, gilded carved wood features and altarpieces.|
|The turreted dome was mainly designed by Matthias Steinl, who was also responsible for much of the interior decoration.|
|Sarah with a make-shift sling (her purse) and Molly back in the bag. There was trouble right here in Vienna city.|
|Paul standing beside some ancient Roman wall ruins located by the Spanish Riding School. The walls are from a fortified military camp that the Romans started building in 15 BC.|
|Austrian National Library: Built by Emperor Charles and Empress Maria Theresa from 1720-23, the library is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world today. The statue is of Emperor Joseph II.|
|Vienna State Opera House: Opened in 1863, this 1200 seat theatre hosts over 300 performances of about 70 different works a year. Tickets sell out very quickly so in order to see a performance here one has to really plan and book weeks/months ahead.|
|As part of the overnight package, we received slippers, earplugs, soap, a hand towel, water, pureed fruit in a tube, and sparkling wine. Here Vincent is making his breakfast selection.|
|Each compartment contained a tiny closet and wash basin.|
|A bit tired after a not-too-restful night on the train, we waited for our first vaporetto to take us from the train station.|
|Miracoli Church: The present building was completed in the 1490s.|
|One of many canal shots.|
|The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal. It was first a pontoon bridge built in 1181, then it became a series of wooden bridges (the first being built in 1255). The present stone bridge was completed in 1591.|
|At the courtyard entrance to San Giovanni Evangelista.|
|Isola di San Michele: In the early 1800s, it became a cemetery when it was deemed that burying bodies on the main Venetian islands was unsanitary.|
|Murano has its share of canals as well.|
|As you'd expect, Murano is filled with shops selling the most gorgeous glass articles.|
|Basilica dei Santa Maria e Donato.|
|After lunch, we stepped into a glass factory and watched a craftsman for a while. This glass maker was creating tigers and horses. His skill was really impressive.|
After running a few tests, it was determined that Molly had bladder stones and so she was prescribed an antibiotic plus a special dog food that she'd have to be fed for at least 5-6 weeks. (I read later that some dogs need to stay on the special food for life, so we'll see.) She also would have to drink bottled water from now on (while tap water was good enough for the rest of us). Since we would be on the road for the next 3 months, we had to buy enough food at least to get her to the next vet visit, which would be in about 6 weeks. Anyway the plus was that it didn't seem to be anymore serious (ie, not cancer) and there were 5 of us to carry the bottled water and food when it came to traveling back to Vienna via public transportation.
|Molly wasn't too keen on visiting the vet. She also wasn't thrilled to be on the table so high off the floor.|
|Just another canal shot walking home from the vet. I liked the flower boxes hanging from the windows.|
We were coached by the woman who started the business and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. This was a super activity to do with kids in Venice.
|A canal scene on the way to our lesson.|
|Upon starting our session, we were first given instructions on how to row a prua (at the prow). James had a go at it first.|
|Paul was up next.|
|And Sarah gave it a go. Vincent and I also got a turn and I found it pretty straight forward; it's not much different than rowing except one is handling a very long oar which can be tricky when one enters a narrow canal.|
|Now Vincent had a lesson and a turn at rowing a poppa, at the stern of the gondola. It was trickier than being in the prow and he had the added pressure of onlooking commentators in neighboring buildings.|
As you'd expect, St Mark's was full of tourists but at least it was still possible to move. It was just the end of April so we were still only in the shoulder season. I can't imagine coming here in June, July or August. Unfortunately the introduction of cruise ships has tipped an already overcrowded situation into, in my opinion, a dreadful "experience". I would think trying to tour any of the main sights in high season would induce a sense of claustrophobia while packed in with hundreds/thousands of others and unable to walk in a straight line further than 30 cm.
|With all the chaos and people at St Mark's, it can be easy not to stop and look up. Despite years of weather, there are still many intricate details to be found on the buildings lining the square.|
|As mentioned in other posts, I'm not generally interested in shopping but, like Istanbul, Venice has so many beautiful products for sale. My mission here was handbags.|
|Ahhh, the Bridge of Sighs. Built in 1600, it connected the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment.|
|A view of San Giorgio Maggiore.|
|Board a vaporetto and take in the scenery. There are lots of ornate interesting buildings.|
|Palazzo Barbarigo is a 16th century building that was used for the design, light manufacture, sale and display of Salviati mosaics.|
|Another view looking down the Grand Canal.|
|Approaching the Rialto Bridge.|
|View of the Doge's Palace from San Giorgio Maggiore.|
|San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century Benedictine church built between 1566 and 1610. The interior is quite plain compared to many basilicas in Italy, with undecorated white walls.|
|Lighting another candle.|
If one is half open to modern art, the Guggenheim museum is a good place to visit. Peggy decided she would start a collection purchasing art from living artists, which really was a great thing (for those living artists that she liked). A number of those artists did get recognized, some due to Peggy's support, so the result is a strong collection of a variety of early to mid-20th century art. The museum has a real east coast US feel to it, in large part due to the staff and the general atmosphere. In addition to the collection, the other nice aspect to the museum is that there are a number of staff milling about wearing an "Ask Me" button; one can ask them about any piece of art and they'll give you a detailed background on the piece. I hadn't seen this before but thought it was a great way to help people come to a better understanding of a piece that might just look like a few lines on a canvas.
|Peggy Guggenheim's remains are buried in the sculpture garden along with those of her cherished dogs. Looking at the dates, many of those dogs didn't live very long in her care so I wondered what the story was with some of them.|
|La Pluie (1911) by Marc Chagall|
|Flowers (1964) by Andy Warhol|
|Piazza San Marco #15 (1915) by William Congdon|
|The view of the Grand Canal from the Guggenheim Museum terrace.|
On May 1st, we woke to an unexpected beautiful sunny day. We had to check out of our "Chromotherapy" apartment at 10am and our plan was to drop our luggage off at the train station and then spend the rest of the day touring Venice. We were grateful that it wasn't raining, which was the forecast.
|Molly was back in the bag again.|
Sarah and I ended walking clear across Venice back to the Cannaregio district (which I found to have the best deals on handbags) stopping in several shops along the way. I was amazed at how well Sarah remembered how to navigate through the small alleys. I probably would have gotten lost if I hadn't had her help. The girl's got a great memory.
|On the wooden Ponte dell'Accademia which crosses the Grand Canal. It was first constructed in 1854, then was replaced in 1933 and then again in 1985.|
|A boy loves his dog. Paul and Molly hanging out until it was time to catch the vaporetto to the train station.|
|Making the most out of the limited real estate.|
|A final lovely view of the lagoon.|
|Waiting for the train to arrive in Vienna: Molly was more than ready to get off.|
Once we unpacked, did a load of laundry and the kids did some school work, we decided to drive to Slovakia and spend a few hours in the capital, Bratislava. We were kind of doing the typical "American tour" visiting a country to check off a box but I was too tired to do more intensive sightseeing in Vienna. At this point, I knew I wouldn't be able to see a fraction of what I wanted to see in Vienna so I had more or less given up on that thought and penciled Vienna in for another trip later down the road.
On the drive to Bratislava, we listened to the podcast Vincent and I gave for Family Adventure, which covers families doing "epic travel adventures". It was the first time either Vincent or I had been interviewed so naturally we were curious how it turned out. Fortunately, the kids thought it was okay (ie, we didn't embarrass them with any of our anecdotes).
Bratislava is not a big city, as capitals go, with a population of about 420,000. It's another key city that sits on the Danube river as well as the left bank of the Morava River. Evidence of first settlements goes back to about 5000 BC. The area fell under Roman rule from the 1st to the 4th century AD, when the Romans introduced grape growing to the area and began a tradition of wine making which survives to the present. The Slavs arrived from the East between the 5th and 6th centuries. From 1536 to 1783, Bratislava (at that time, known as Pressburg) was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, a part of the larger Habsburg monarchy territories, and had been home to many Slovak, Hungarian and German historical figures. Between 1536 and 1830, eleven Hungarian kings and queens were crowned at St Martin's Cathedral. The 17th century was marked by anti-Habsburg uprisings, fighting with the Turks, floods, plagues and other disasters, which diminished the population. The city flourished during the 18th-century reign of Queen Maria Theresa and became the largest and most important town in Hungary. The population tripled; many new palaces, monasteries, mansions, and streets were built, and the city was the center of social and cultural life of the region. In 1918, after WWI, the city was incorporated into the newly formed country of Czechoslovakia. In WWII, Bratislava quickly fell under Nazi influence and was eventually taken by the Soviet Red Army on April 4, 1945 and later became part of the Eastern Bloc. In 1993, the city became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
|Driving into the city, one can easily spot Bratislava Castle. In 1811, the castle was destroyed by fire. What is seen here is a reconstruction done after 1950.|
|Our €2 entrance fee to St Martins included the crypt.|
|Interesting character found on an outside wall of the cathedral.|
|Walking up Venturska Ulica|
|It's always fun to spot the unusual food item(s) in the local grocery store. Here we spotted cabbage juice.|
|Most Slovenského národného povstania (Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising) commonly referred to as the UFO Bridge: It houses a restaurant at the top.|
Vienna'a Natural History Museum is one of the oldest and most noteworthy natural history museums in the world. It certainly was the most impressive that I had seen thus far.
|The current building was completed in 1889. Its collections were founded in 1750 by Emporer Frana I Stephan of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa.|
|The exquisite interior of the grand hall staircase of the Naturhistorisches Museum.|
|On the top floor is a cafe; perfect for a break. Look up and one can see the area is lit via this beautiful dome.|
|Many of the displays show the animals in what their habitat would look like. The display cabinets seem to come straight from an 18th century naturalist’s study.|
|The museum has placed notices next to specimens that are either extinct or critically endangered.|
|James standing within the lower jaw of a fin whale.|
|Even the frescoes and details of the room walls reflected the contents. This is a close up of an upper wall fresco in the room housing reptiles.|
|A display pointing out that sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. The turtles eat the plastic bags and then die.|
|One room of the exhibit had a hundred or so lists hanging from each wall listing the species that have already become extinct.|
|Without any change in course, the orangutan is projected to be extinct by 2030.|
|So will the tiger.|
|There were displays covering the perils of overfishing, not choosing the right fish to consume, the effects of pesticides, the decline of the bee population and how our choices as consumers are accelerating the deadly direction.|
After leaving the museum, we walked to the Haus der Musik, which is billed as an interactive music discovery museum, located at Seilerstätte 30, stopping for an early dinner along the way.
|We walked by the Hotel Sacher and Sacher Cafe, where the famous Sacher torte was created. We weren't destined to sample the original torte at €8 a slice this trip.|
|In the "History of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra" exhibit, there was a "Waltz with Dice" activity. Two people could throw dice and create their own waltz. Here, Paul and James are creating their unique version of the Vienna Waltz.|
|The Mozart (1756-91) room: Mozart died at age 36 but managed to compose over 600 works.|
|The Beethoven (1770-1827) room: Beethoven studied under Haydn for a few years from 1790-93. In 1796, he began to lose his hearing and was almost completely deaf by 1814.|
|Paul creating music on the "virtual stage": Here body language influences both the music and the film images. I'm sure the outcome was something frantic.|
|Walking by the Opera House, we saw the current production being broadcast live outside. If it was a little warmer and the kids not so tired, we would have stayed to watch more of it. Oh well, next time.|