Friday, July 28, 2017

Bratislava Byways

One of the first things we saw when we docked at Bratislava was a UFO.
UFO Bridge
Actually it’s a restaurant on a bridge that looks like a flying saucer. Slovakia, where Bratislava is located, became its own country in 1993 and has been on its way to establishing itself as a world leader in economics and politics. To that end it has participated in the European Union, NATO, the Eurozone, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Although this is a very forward looking country, it has not lost its links to its past. The area we visited was just as charming as the other small towns we saw along the Danube.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mincing in Melk and Dancing in Dürnstein

Cruising down the Danube brought us through some lovely country with
Castles and churches along the Danube River
scenic towns, churches, and castles in various stages of disrepair. This is a swiftly moving river, which really surprised me since I had always imagined it as a languid, barely moving stream. Around the towns were vineyard covered hills, thick forests, and a few outcrops of rocks. All in all it was a charming trip through an amazing riparian landscape. The two small Austrian towns we were off to explore were a step back in time to the days when the church was not only the religious center, but the guardian of the law, culture, and government. The religious leaders were also involved in business, with the church being able to levy tolls and people bringing goods up and down the river.

Melk is the home of a massive baroque Benedictine monastery named Melk Abbey that was founded in 1089. It houses the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau as well as those of several members of Austria's
Top L to R: Melk Abbey, Spiral staircase
Bottom L to R: Library, View from the Abbey
first ruling dynasty. About 100 years before, Margrave Leopold I used the area around Melk as a barrier between the Magyars to east and Bavaria (see Along the Rhine) to the west. This kept marauders at bay and the town remained relatively safe until about 1938. Where the abbey currently stands was originally the Babenberger castle; it was given to the Benedictine monks from nearby Lambach by Margrave Leopold II in 1089. The abbey was successful and in the 12th century the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, a monastic school, was founded; their monastic library quickly became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection and the production of manuscripts. Because the abbey was so well known, it has survived political threats during the Napoleonic Wars; however, the abbey and the school were confiscated by the state just after annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany (Anschluss) in 1938. The school was returned at the end of World War II and now is a co-educational institution from almost 900 students.

The views of the river and town from the abbey were spectacular, as was
Left: Walking in the gardens (by Tony Chin)
Center T to B: Smelling the roses (by Tony Chin), Crows
Right: Rabbit
the abbey, itself. Although we were not allowed to take pictures inside, there were postcards with images of what Barb and I were most interested in, the library. These manuscripts are hundreds of years old and badly in need of curating to protect the moldering pages and cracked covers. Once outside, we discovered that the gardens that are attached to the abbey were quite fanciful. The lawns had been decorated with imaginary creatures, and the hedges had ceramic birds that made us smile. The rose bushes made us want to see if they smelled as sweet and the hedges made us want to take a walk.

Down in town the streets are as rough and narrow as they were when the town was built. A visitor trying to park a van was caught between two
Left: Down the steps into town
Center T to B: Ceramics, Melk
Right: Yarn shop
buildings, a giant flower pot and a tree. Some town folk and several visitors gave him lots of advice. After about 15 minutes of machinations he successfully parked the van and received a round of applause. Meanwhile, several of us were adding to the fiscal stability of Melk. Barb and I found a potter who had some delightful goods; she had to take a crow home and I needed just one more bowl. We also found a yarn shop and even though it was hot and humid we bought yet another few skeins of the fluffy stuff. There were lots of other interesting shops we visited, but nothing else came back to Texas with us, so it was back on the ship and on to our next port of call: Dürnstein.

This small town is in a well-known wine growing area and is one of the
Day and night views of the castle
most-visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region. The town was first mentioned in manuscripts in 1192 when Dürnstein Castle became infamous as the prison for King Richard the Lionheart. Duke Leopold V suspected that King Richard ordered the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat in Jerusalem, so he captured him and gave him to Emperor Henry VI. Of course, this angered Pope Celestine III who excommunicated Leopold for capturing a fellow crusader.

Down the hill and near the center of town is Stift Dürnstein (Dürnstein Abbey). This Baroque monastery was created in 1410 and reconstructed at the beginning of the 18th century. Since 1788 it has belonged to the Herringburg Augustinian choristers who have maintained and renovated the structure as needed. The Augustine exhibition and views from the Danube terrace made this a wonderful place to visit. We were turned loose to wander through the abbey by ourselves, so we took the opportunity to poke into all of the rooms and go out onto the terrace. There was a winding staircase that was blocked off with a flower pot, but that was about the only place we didn’t explore.
Exterior and Interior scenes from the abbey

The town is tiny, but there are lots of picturesque shops, interesting streets, and great views. We wandered up and down, literally, since this is
Top L to R: Vineyard, City gate
Bottom L to R: View from the terrace,
Narrow streets
a very hilly town. One of its highlights was an artist who made jewelry from rocks polished by the Danube. There were also people making their own candy, wine, and schnapps out of apricots, and while these were interesting, they simply wouldn’t fit in our luggage.

Bratislava is the topic of next week’s blog – stay tuned!
Purple flowers along the street
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Friday, July 14, 2017

Viewing Vienna

Vienna architecture spans the gamut from Gothic to Baroque to Rococo and for those of us who like all sorts of architecture, it was eye-candy. Some of this architecture dates back to
Examples of different sorts of architecture plus a
rabbit and a man on a clock for whimsy
when Vienna was a Roman military camp during the 1st century; even today there are streets show evidence of the encampment’s walls and moats. The Romans hung around until the 5th century when a fire destroyed the encampment but didn’t discourage the settlers who had been steadily arriving from Germany, Slavic and Russian areas. Vienna continued to develop as a gateway to trade routes and a staging area for troops going off to fight wars throughout the Middle Ages. The capture of Richard the Lionhearted at the end of the 12th century and his subsequent ransom to Duke Leopold V the Virtuous for 10 to 12 tons of silver allowed the creation of a mint and the construction of city walls. Pride of place vacillated between Prague and Vienna with each city competing with the other for the holy seat and the political power that accompanied the honor. The distinction of founder of the city goes to Rudolf IV of Austria. His sensible economic policies raised the level of prosperity as did the establishment of the University of Vienna in 1365 and the construction of the gothic nave in the Stephansdom which was a symbolic substitute for a bishop. Under German King Albert II, Vienna became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and in about 1441 he tossed out the Jewish population of Vienna supporting the anti-Semitism that has been present ever since. Political upheavals continued through this city’s history with the inevitable destruction and restoration of buildings. In both of the World Wars, Vienna was on the losing side, finally being occupied by allied troops in 1945. Vienna was then divided into five occupation zones among France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and with the city center (first district) being patrolled by all four. Since 1955, the country regained its political independence and sovereignty; it now serves as a political center in Europe with more than 17,000 diplomats. Its city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site making it a tourist hub.

We began our visit at Maria Teresa’s house, the Schönbrunn Palace. Although this was the Imperial Summer Residence, as hot as it was in Vienna when we visited, I wondered
Top L to R: Neptune's Fountain, Janus and Bellona, Gloriette
Schönbrunn Palace
whether this shouldn’t have been the winter palace. The building reminded me a great deal of the palaces I’d seen in Russia (see Underground Art) with its numerous bedrooms, ballrooms, dining rooms, waiting rooms and lots of other rooms – in this case 1,441 rooms in total. Built in the early 17th Century but rebuilt and remodeled by Marie Theresa in the 1740s. She was one of the most prolific monarchs, bearing 16 children, most of them girls who she married off to the princes around Europe. This gave Maria Teresa the unofficial title as ‘mother-in-law to Europe’. Her daughters became the Queen of France, the Queen of Naples and Sicily, the Duchess of Parma, and her five sons, included two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II. While the castle was impressive, the gardens were even more so. I particularly liked the Neptune Fountain set into the hillside. This sculptured water feature was designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg. The fountain sits just below a 200 foot hill, which is topped by the Gloriette; this was supposed to be the entrance to the palace at one time, but Maria Theresa wanted it to represent a ‘Just War’ won by the Hapsburgs. There are many other sculptures in the garden, all of them Roman in origin.

One of the other places I particularly wanted to see what the Belvedere Museum. It is housed in part of the Belvedere Palace and although smaller than the Louvre in Paris, still
Top L to R: Belvedere Palace, Cinnabar statue, Belevedere Gardens
Bottom L to R: Baroque sculpture, Three Graces, Entrance hall
takes the better part of a day to see the art in all of the buildings. The Belvedere actually consists of the Upper and Lower palaces, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and wrought iron gates decorate the gentle gradient on which the complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736) by the famous Baroque architect, Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The art collection dates from the Middle Ages to the present day, and is complemented by the works of international artists. Of course, being set in rooms of state only enhances the presentation of these works. The collection of Gustav Klimt was what had drawn me to this particular museum and I wasn’t disappointed. Two of his pictures are perhaps his most well-known. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I came to the forefront with the popularization of the book and movie, The Woman in Gold. Of course this painting was not in the museum, but ‘The Kiss’ was. I had seen pictures of piece, but I had no idea how large it is nor just how shiny. Painted during his ‘golden phase’ it is quite amazing. There were two other paintings that I really liked. One was ‘Judith’ and the other was ‘Portrait of Fritza Riedler’; both of these emphasize Klimt’s favorite subject, the female body.

Of course, the centerpiece, both literally and figuratively, of Vienna is Saint Stephan’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP. This Romanesque and Gothic monolith dominates the skyline and sits in the center of the old town. Its placement is
Top L to R:Spire, High Alter, Blackened stones
Bottom L to R: Roof tiles, Capistran Chancel, Hapsburg Eagles
particularly nice when you’re trying to find your way through the maze of streets; just look along the housetops and you’ll usually see the steeple of the church. Built of limestone, the cathedral is 351 feet long, 130 feet wide, and 446 feet tall at its highest point; it stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the earliest of which was consecrated in 1147. One of its most striking characteristics is its ornately patterned roof made up of 230,000 glazed tiles. On the south side of the building the tiles form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle symbolizing the rein of the Habsburg dynasty. The north side displays the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and of the Republic of Austria. The roof is so steep that it is cleansed by the rain and is rarely covered by snow. The rest of the building isn’t as clean. Over the centuries, soot and air pollution have accumulated on the exterior walls, giving them a black color. Recently restoration projects have returned some portions to their original white, which is one reason that the area around the cathedral is under construction. However, visitors can still get inside, and the inside is worth seeing. The high alter, is a baroque carving designed by Tobias Pock that tells the story of Saint Stephan’s stoning. Flanking the nave are chapels dedicated to saints that include works of art, and the pulpit, a late Gothic design, sits on one of the main pillars positioned so that the audience can hear the sermon.

Vienna was a wonderful city and the brief time we spent there certainly wasn’t enough. I can’t wait to go back and see all of the things I missed. Next week I’ll write about two of the towns we visited while on a brief, but lovely, cruise down the Danube.
National Library
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Friday, July 7, 2017

Prague, again

View of the Vltava from one of the bridges
Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have believed that I would travel to Prague once. Now I’ve been there three times. This time it was with Triple M Tours and SocialBeadia on a trip called Beading through Bohemia. Our mission was to do some sightseeing, visit cradle of Czech beads, and learn some new beading skills taught by Marcia DeCoster. There are several previous blogs that include information about Prague, so if you’d like to read about other visits there (including reviews), take a look at Art, Time after Time, Weirdness in Bohemia, Peeking in on Prague, Review of Viking Cruise from Prague to Paris.