Saturday, May 17, 2014

Vienna Austria, Bratislava Slovakia and Venice Italy

On April 24th, we left Budapest and headed towards Vienna, Austria. I had visited Vienna over 20 years ago with my mother and aunt and always knew I wanted to return.
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.
En route to our first choice campground, Vincent received a message that it was full, so we adjusted our course to head to the campground Wienerwald in the village, Sulz im Wienerwald (~€12/day which included our being absent 5 days in Venice), about 20 minutes drive outside of Vienna. The Wienerwald campground turned out to be just fine and in a lovely setting with horses, goats and rabbits on the property. A load of laundry in the campground washing machine was a mere €2 which probably the best price we'd encountered yet on this trip. When trying to hook up LandShark to the electrical outlet however, we found that we did not have the right fitting to plug in. The campground outlet was a simple 2-pronged socket, whereas our plug was equipped with a 3rd grounded prong. A kind neighbor loaned us theirs and gave us a map pointing to a camping supply store where we could buy an adapter. So that is to where we headed, and we had dinner along the way. The rest of the evening was spent doing the usual: Research, blogging, homework and messing with the dog.

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.
Upon arrival at the Palace, we bought a "Classic Plus" ticket which included a self-guided tour of the palace and access to the Privy Garden, to the Gloriette panorama terrace, to the maze, labyrinth and playground and entrance to the Apple Strudel Show. (Yes, there was indeed an Apple Strudel Show.)

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).
There were 2 mazes and 1 labyrinth to follow. The maze in the foreground was laid out between 1698 and 1740 and consisted of four different parts with a central elevated pavilion from which the maze could be seen as a whole.
During the 19th century it was gradually abandoned until in 1892 the last remaining hedges were felled. In autumn 1998 a new maze with a viewing platform (from where this photo was taken) at its centre was laid out taking the historical model into account where possible.The labyrinth (top left) includes games, puzzles and a giant kaleidoscope.
At 16:00 we went to the Apple Strudel Show in which a woman demonstrated how to make (obviously) apple strudel. At the end of the demonstration, we were provided with a Strudel hotline number and email address in the event we have trouble making our own strudel and need help! (If interested, +43 1 24 100 310 and residenz@cafe-wien.at.)
An enticing feature of the show was that one received an apple strudel sample to eat while watching someone make more apple strudel.
Here the demonstrator was working with the dough. In order to give it this incredible elasticity, the dough was soaked in oil for several hours. She rolled the dough out like a pie shell and then started working with it like pizza dough. However unlike pizza, she was able to stretch it to a paper-thin thickness without tearing the dough.
After the Apple Strudel Show, Vince and the kids decided to go to the Technisches (Technical) Museum which was just two blocks away from the palace grounds. I chose to spend the next 90 minutes or so at the palace and see the other things our Classical Plus ticket included.
The Privy Garden: It is also known as the Crown Prince Rudolf Garden and is part of the Meidling Kammergärten. It lies immediately in front of the east façade of the palace, and received its name around 1870, after apartments had been furnished for Crown Prince Rudolf on the ground floor of this wing.
Neptunbrunnen (Neptune Fountain): It is located at the foot of the hill behind the palace and was designed as the crowning element of the Great Parterre. It was conceived as part of the overall design of the gardens and park commissioned by Maria Theresa in the 1770s. Excavations for the pool (situated in front of the fountain) began in 1776 and the fountain was completed four years later, just before the death of the empress.
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.
I later met Vincent and the kids in the lobby of the Technisches Museum. I asked the kids what they thought of it and they replied that it was, "Okay". There weren't too many hands-on displays apparently. I asked Vincent what he thought of it and he said, "It was really good." Displays were translated into English and, "If one took the time to read, one could learn a lot." Vincent noted that many displays incorporated what was going on in history during the time of the science discovery which made it more interesting. The museum charged €10 for adults and children up to 19 years old were free. The pricing perhaps signaled that the older the person, the more they were likely to get out of a visit to the museum.
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.
On April 26th, we packed our bags and left LandShark and the Prius at Camping Wienerwald for a five day excursion to Venice, Italy. At one time, we had planned to drive to Venice and camp on the outskirts of the city but in Vincent's efforts to minimize miles driven in LandShark, he organized a trip via public transportation; the excursion involved a bus, local train, subway, overnight train and vaporetto to reach our booked apartment in the Cannaregio district of Venice. Since we would be carrying everything, including Molly's bed, food and dishes, we packed with just the bare essentials.
Waiting for the bus that would take us to a local train and then subway (that would in turn take us to the West Banhof station). We weren't sure whether Molly would be allowed on the bus or local train so we packed her in a carrying bag to be less conspicuous. Would anyone notice her?
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.
We arrived at the train station and found a luggage locker to place our belongings while we walked around Vienna. At this point, it was about 14:00 and our train wouldn't depart until 20:44 so we had a good 6+ hours to put in. Since we had Molly with us, we knew we couldn't go into any museums so we opted to do the self-guided walking tour. We started by walking up Mariahilfer Strauss, which is a main shopping street, towards the historical hub of Vienna. Here are a subset of places we saw along the way:
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.
Kunsthistorisches Museum: This museum of art history and fine arts was opened around 1891 at the same time as the Naturhistorisches Museum, by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. The two museums have identical exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz. The museums were commissioned by the Emperor in order to find a suitable shelter for the Habsburg's formidable art collection and to make it accessible to the general public.
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.
Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral): This massive gothic cathedral is the center of the city and is the focal point of Vienna's main square, Stephanplatz. St Stephen's started as a parish in 1147 and was completed in 1433. St Stephen's has the second largest swinging bell in Europe; it is officially named for St Mary, but is referred to as Pummerin ("Boomer") and weighs 20,130 kilograms.
St Stephen's has 18 altars in the main part of the church, and more in the various chapels. The main High Altar took over seven years to build (1641 to 1647) and was done as part of the first refurbishment of the cathedral in the baroque style. The stone pulpit is a masterwork of late Gothic sculpture and, like so many built centuries ago, sits out in the nave so that worshipers could better hear the sermon in the days before microphones.
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 Baroque high altar was constructed by Antonio Galli Bibiena and his Bolognese workshop. Martino Altomonte created the altarpiece. The altarpiece portrays the Healing of the Lame by St. Peter and St. John in Jerusalem. The gilded ornate pulpit is a sculpture by Matthias Steinl (1726); on top of the canopy is a representation of the Holy Trinity.
The turreted dome was mainly designed by Matthias Steinl, who was also responsible for much of the interior decoration.
After leaving St Peters, within the span of about 5 seconds, Sarah tripped and fell, skinning both knees and spraining or breaking her little finger (we weren't sure at the time); meanwhile Vince and the boys noticed that Molly just urinated a lot of blood a few yards away. We had a double crisis on our hands and it was 15:30 on a Saturday afternoon. We knew there was no chance of an animal clinic being open today nor tomorrow and we weren't sure whether we should be rushing to find a (human) medical center. (Sarah was prone to breaking bones.) With a train to catch in a few hours, we put Molly in the red carry bag so she wouldn't have to walk further and continued on our walking tour hoping to find an apotek (pharmacy) along the way. We did eventually come across an apotek and bought some topical pain reliever and a bandage to wrap Sarah's finger and give it more support. If we didn't come across a medical center, during the next couple of hours, we'd see how her finger was the next day and then seek out treatment, if necessary, in Venice.
Sarah with a make-shift sling (her purse) and Molly back in the bag. There was trouble right here in Vienna city.
As we started back to the train station, we passed the Spanish Winter Riding School. The Spanish Winter Riding School dates back to the 16th century but the building that is seen today wasn't built until 1729-35. The school was named for the Spanish horses that formed one of the bases of the Lipizzan breed, which was used exclusively at the school.
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.
Walking towards the Albertina Museum: The Albertina Museum houses approximately 65,000 drawings and approximately 1 million old master prints, as well as more modern graphic works, photographs and architectural drawings. On the stairs to the entrance is a copy of "Young Hare" (1502) by Albrecht Dürer.
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.
At a little after 20:00, we boarded our train and found our respective compartments. The kids shared one compartment at one end of our #403 car, while Vincent and I shared another compartment at the opposite end. (Couldn't the agent put us closer together? I should be grateful we were all on the same train, I suppose.) The only other time I had slept on a train was about 30 years ago during my Eurail adventure and this was certainly an upgrade from that experience. There were 3 bunks in our compartments, a small table, a closet and wash basin. The only negative was no access to wifi which was a bit strange given this was 2014. Nevertheless, it was pretty comfortable as trains go.
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.
On April 27th, we arrived in Venice about 8:30. Upon leaving the train station, we bought weekly vaporetto passes for our 5 days in Venice (which in hindsight one doesn't need if not living on the Lido and is happy walking most places) and then set off to find our apartment "Chromotheraphy" located in the Cannaregio district on Campiello Widmann.
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.
After checking into our apartment, we set out to explore a bit of Venice. Here are a few shots I took during the day.
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.
Later that day, Vincent proposed that we go to a classical concert held at the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista. It was part of the Venice Music Project. The kids were very excited about the prospects. (Sarcasm.) Anyway, we went and for classical music fans it was special with less known music (you won't hear Vivaldi's "Four Seasons") from Marais, Mondonville and Duphly performed by Ensemble T Kabinet (comprised of Americans and an Austrian). They played a violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord.
At the courtyard entrance to San Giovanni Evangelista.
The concert set-up in San Giovanni Evangelista: This church has an interesting history. Originally founded in 1261, it is the second oldest scuola (school or more accurately, organization founded on spiritual principles) in Venice. The founders of San Giovanni were a confraternity of flagellants who took part in religious ceremonies, whipping their backs and spraying blood onto the pavements as they processed through the city. Perhaps not surprisingly, the practice was outlawed in Venice soon after the scuola was opened. I'm sure local residents got annoyed cleaning up after these people.
On April 28th, we took a vaporetto to Murano which is well know for its glass factories. Murano’s reputation as a center for glass-making was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wood buildings, ordered glass-makers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. The process of making Murano glass is rather complex. Most Murano glass art is made using the lampworking (where a torch is primarily used) technique. The glass is made from silica, which becomes liquid at high temperatures. As the glass passes from a liquid to a solid state, there is an interval wherein the glass is soft before it hardens completely. This is when the glass-master can shape the material.
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.
Looking at a glass sculpture called "Natale di Luce in una Cometa di Vetro” (Christmas of Light in a Glass Comet) by Simone Cenedese. At night it is lit up and is very striking. (As inferred by pictures...We did not stay long enough to see for ourselves). 
Basilica dei Santa Maria e Donato.
Sarah lighting yet another candle in the Basilica dei Santa Maria e Donato. She made it a practice to light a candle in each church we visited during the course of our trip and said a prayer for God to watch over her family. So far, it seemed to be working.
We wandered around quite a bit and admired all the gorgeous glass products. This was another rare occasion where I would have loved to shop and purchase some glassware but the logistics of doing so made it pretty impossible. Nowhere to put the stuff in LandShark, impossible to carry with all our other belongings when we do return to North America and nowhere to directly ship the goods since we didn't have a home base yet in North America. Plus having lived on the road now some 284 days, I was reminded of how few belongings one really needs to live well and we already had way too much stuff packed away back in California. As a small nod to purchase something, Vince and I bought a few wine stoppers that we could use and give a couple as gifts.
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 returning from Murano, we had a veterinarian appointment for Molly at 16:30. Vincent and I walked half-way across Venice and back again trying to find the vet's office. Signage was at a minimum and we never would have found the office if it hadn't been for the GPS plus cell phone.

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.
On April 29th, Vincent booked us in a session to "voga alla veneto" (learn the unique, stand-up rowing style developed to traverse Venice and its lagoon). It was run by Row Venice, which is operated by VIVA Voga Veneta, a non-profit organization promoting the presence of the voga and traditional boats in the Venetian canals.

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.
After wrapping up our 90 minute gondola lesson, we got the courage to face St Mark's Square; it was a stunningly beautiful, sunny day and we were all feeling good after our time gliding through the canals.

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.
Piazza San Marco: On the left is the Campanile di San Marco, the bell tower of St Mark's Basilica. The tower collapsed in 1902 and was reconstructed in 1912. The original tower was started in the 9th century and finished in the 12th century. The tower had 5 bells, each with a special purpose; the Renghiera (or the Maleficio) announced executions; the Mezza Terza proclaimed a session of the Senate; the Nona sounded midday; the Trottiera called the members of the Maggior Consiglio to council meetings and the Marangona, the biggest, rang to mark the beginning and ending of working day. 
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.
There are very expensive shops lining the square with luxurious items. I'm not sure who actually purchases from these shops as I'd think most items could be purchased elsewhere at lower prices. But still, there are those few where money is not an object.

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.

Feeling so good in the sunshine and "here we were at St Mark's", we did the extravagant thing to sit down and order a few drinks (€5-€9 each) and small pizza (€8) on the square. I asked the waiter to take a photo of us and asked for the background to be of the square but he insisted on taking it in the opposite direction with the sun directly in our faces, construction barricades and full garbage can behind us. I was so annoyed. It was just a reminder that while the locals really depend on the tourist €, I think deep down they really hate us.

St Mark's Basilica, the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, was undergoing significant restoration. The first St Mark's building stood here in 832. The building, generally as seen here, was consecrated sometime between 1093-1117 (historical records aren't clear).
Doge's Palace: The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice (chief magistrate), the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice. The palace has a complicated history that started in 810 with a number of chapters through the centuries. Some features of the palace today date back to the 14th century.
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.
We then boarded a vaporetto and rode along the Grand Canal. We had to get our money's worth out of that weekly pass.
A view of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health): In 1630, Venice experienced an unusually devastating outbreak of the plague. As an offering for the city's deliverance from the pestilence, the Republic of Venice vowed to build and dedicate a church to "Our Lady of Health". The church was consecrated in 1681.
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.
On April 30th, we started our day by heading out to the Lido, wandering around a bit and having a pretty good lunch. Having stayed on the Lido about 16 years ago, I was reminded that the restaurants are often a bit better there and the prices slightly more reasonable, given tourists have to make more of an effort to get there. After lunch, we pretty much just walked back to the vaporetto station and then took a boat to San Marco, then another boat to Arsenale in order to go to the Naval Museum (Museo Storico Navale) which had pretty high reviews and we thought the boys, at least, would enjoy it. Plus, as it's run by the Navy, the museum has a bargain admissions fee. We arrived to discover that the museum closed at 13:30. So with that plan gone bust, we took another vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore to see the church there of the same name. The best views of Venice can actually be seen from San Giorgio Maggiore.
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.
Upon leaving San Giorgio, I realized we hadn't been to one museum or gallery in Venice and it would be a shame to leave and not immerse ourselves in something. That being said, we had the kids and given we had 285 days of recent travel experience with them, promoting a gallery to the kids was a real long shot. Vince proposed either the Peggy Guggenheim Museum or the Gallerie dell'Accademia. None of the kids were interested in either. Paul stated we should choose whatever museum we could get through the quickest. With that advice, we chose the Guggenheim which some travel advisers recommend for kids. (They've never met ours.) Anyway to the Guggenheim we went. And it pretty much played out as expected. Sarah essentially refused to go in and stayed in the sculpture garden the whole time, which was fine. At least she wasn't complaining next to Vincent nor me. Paul and James sprinted through, though Paul claimed he read every sign. Vincent and I took longer as we opted to get the audio guides which give much more detailed descriptions than what the signage provides. When Paul came to me and proclaimed, "I'm done; can we go now?" He also volunteered that he hated modern art and "It's for people who have too much money on their hands." (Well, I can't fault him for that opinion.) I gave him my audio guide and told him to listen to 10 complete descriptions to see if something clicked for him. Having listened to several descriptions at this point, I knew it would be unlikely as much of the audio is targeted at those who are already at complete comfort with modern art (ie, lots of over-the-top whimsical commentary). Off he went and the assignment bought me a little extra time.

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.
Later that evening, Vincent realized that his CapitalOne MasterCard was missing and we surmised that he left it at the Guggenheim Museum when he bought our tickets. It was safely at the ticket desk when Vincent retrieved it the next morning so if one ever gets separated from their credit card, the Guggenheim Museum is a good place for that to happen.

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.
We had lunch right next to the water along the Rio San Trovaso by the Zattere station. After lunch, Sarah and I opted to spend the afternoon together (with me still on the hunt for handbags) while the boys were resigned to dealing with Molly and deciding to spend a couple hours at the Giardini Pubblici/Napoleonici.

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.
We all met up again near the Zattere station and had a bite to eat before heading back to the train station
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.
Giardini Napoleonici
Giardini Napoleonici
Giardini Napoleonici
A final lovely view of the lagoon.
On May 2nd, we arrived at the West Banhof station in Vienna at 8:28am as planned and then took the local train, subway and bus back to our campground.
Waiting for the train to arrive in Vienna: Molly was more than ready to get off.
Even though I think we all slept better on the train than we did traveling to Venice, none of us had a great night's sleep. I thought back to Istanbul and imagining how wonderful it would be to travel on the Orient Express and began to have second thoughts; maybe a few nights of train travel wouldn't be that wonderful afterall and one would arrive a shattered mess having not slept well for days...

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.
St Martin's Cathedral: Between 1563 and 1830 St Martin's served as the coronation church for Hungarian kings and their consorts, marked to this day by a 300-kg gilded replica of the Hungarian royal crown perched way on the top of the cathedral's 85-metre-tall neo-Gothic tower.
Sarah, in her new Venetian hat, standing next to a statue of Hans Christian Andersen. Apparently, Andersen said, "If you want a fairy tale, your city (Bratislava) is a fairy tale itself." After visiting here, he produced some of his masterpieces such as "The Little Match Girl".
St Martin's Cathedral is a three-nave Gothic cathedral and was built on the site of a previous, Romanesque church, dedicated to the Holy Saviour, from 1221. After 1291, when Bratislava was given the privileges of a town, the church was rebuilt to become part of the city walls (its tower served as a defensive bastion). The present church was consecrated in 1452.
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.
On May 3rd I had to come up with a plan for Vienna that the kids might enjoy. Two of the top ranked museums for kids (besides the obvious Prater amusement park) were the Naturhistorisches (Natural History) Museum and the Haus der Musik. Since it was a cold (mid 40s) day, threatening to rain, that is what we decided to do.

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.
Just opposite to the Naturhistorisches Museum is the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which has an identical exterior. In the foreground is a monument honoring empress Maria Theresa who reigned for 40 years (1740-80). She is holding a scroll with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, an edict issued by Emperor Charles VI that allowed women to ascend the throne.
From the exquisite building to the extensive collection, all well displayed, it is well worth a visit with kids and even without kids if one is into this type of museum. Today it houses a collection of about 30 million specimens and artefacts. They comprise a number of famous and unique objects including the 25,000 year old figure of the "Venus of Willendorf" (female statuette), a complete skeleton of Steller's sea cow which became extinct more than 200 years ago, huge dinosaur skeletons and the largest and oldest meteorite collection in the world.
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.
The Black Rhinoceros: The museum does the best job I've seen of natural museums and zoos thus far to educate visitors about animals that have become extinct or are on the path to extinction and why. Next to the black rhino was a placard explaining how the belief that rhino horns have benefits to various medical conditions is completely false. They describe the dire results of the illegal killing and trade of rhino horns and point out that even rhino horns from natural history museums have been stolen to meet the rising demand in Asia with values as high as €20,000/kg or ~€100,000+/horn.
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.
Among other displays on the first floor was the best (most impactful) exhibition on the role humans play in the extinction of other species and the negative changes to the environment. There was no "pc" dancing around the issue; the exhibit laid out the grim trend.
"Today scientists are observing the sixth great wave of species extinction in the history of the earth. Three animal or plant species die out every hour. Humans are first and foremost responsible for the destruction of ecosystems, climate change and the mass extinction of species...it is only a question of time before humans themselves become the victims of their over exploitation of life and resources."
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.
When I ran my MyGreenFunds business, which was all about eco-friendly fundraising, I educated myself about many of these issues but through my research I had never seen an exhibit with the depth and breadth of this one at the Natural History Museum. I'd like it duplicated all over the world and while some of the content would be disturbing for elementary kids, all middle school and high school kids should be required to visit the exhibit and do a related project of their choice. (There is no shortage of issues from which to choose!) Without thes next generation fully on board, the earth's future looks pretty grim indeed.

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 third floor of the Haus der Musik, has permanent exhibitions devoted to Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Audio guides are available (included in the fee of admission) to listen to anecdotes concerning each of these artists.
Vincent working through the Haydn room: It included a description of his daily routines and interactive documentation covering Haydn’s life from the farmer's child to the Emperor's palace. Another focus was on the relationship between Haydn and his employers, the Counts of Esterházy and on Haydn’s life in London.
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.
A highlight for many at the Haus der Musik is the "Virtual Conductor", which enables visitors to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra themselves. The conductor's baton is "tracked"; the computer recognizes how fast the baton is being moved, how expansive or intensive these movements are; the corresponding instructions are then transmitted to the Philharmonic's film. I missed photographing Vince or the kids conducting the orchestra but captured this unsuspecting women instead.
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.
After leaving the Haus der Musik, we collected our car at the most expensive parking garage under the Museum Quarter building (€22) and headed back to the Wienerwald campground.
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.
The next day we would be driving to Prague in the Czech Republic. There was so much I didn't see or do in Vienna that I wanted to. In fact, it's probably the city thus far that I left feeling the most unsatisfied with our visit. Next time, I'll do more of what I would like: The opera, the philharmonic orchestra (both require planning in order to get tickets), the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Hofburg palace, Leopold Museum and so much more. Plus time to just wander around the historic areas and take in the beautiful architecture stopping for a glass of wine or coffee along the way to further take it all in. Traveling with kids is a different experience; often it's a great experience. And without the kids, I wouldn't have visited the Natural History Museum nor sought out the Haus der Musik which definitely inspired less complaining that a fine arts museum.

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