Tag Archives: palace

463 steps and no wheelchair.

This past weekend Jenn, Joey, Patrick and I went to Florence. We hopped on the cheap train and hours later ended up in the city. On our walk from the train station to our hostel, we saw almost the entire city. We stayed at Soggiorno Pitti across from Palazzo Pitti, which is actually a fairly ugly palace concealing gardens that cost ten euro to go see. We did not see said gardens. On Friday evening Jenn, Joey and I met up with Patrick, who was staying at a different hostel, and we walked to the loggia outside of the Uffizi gallery and listened to a one-man-band play covers.

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Saturday was a sight seeing marathon. Jenn and I woke up early and waited in line to visit the Uffizi gallery. It’s one of my favorite museums because it has one of my favorite paintings in it, Titian’s Venus of Urbino. For the same reason, it is also a very frustrating museum to go to. For some reason, tour guides like to think (and tell people) that the painting is a private portrait of a faithful wife made for a loving husband. Why can’t people accept that she’s a courtesan?! Argh.

Joey and I on the top of Brunelleschi's dome.

Joey and I on the top of Brunelleschi's dome.

After the gallery Jenn and I met up with Joey and hiked 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome on Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the main cathedral in Florence. Don’t worry, I made it with my ankle brace! The view from the top was amazing, but one thing made it very special. There was a big yellow butterfly pacing (if something that flies can pace) next to the dome. All three of us kept snapping shots back and forth, trying to get a photo of the butterfly. This is my best one.

Florentine Butterfly

Florentine Butterfly

After the dome, I went into the baptistery while Joey and Jenn waited outside. Even though I have been to Florence twice before, I have never been inside. The ceilings are decorated with gorgeous mosaic work. If you go, I highly recommend it!

Baptistry Ceiling

Baptistery Ceiling

Then somehow Jenn and I convinced Joey to go to the open air market. She bought scarves for herself and her mom and I bought leather gloves. YES! In the evening we tried to find an English bookstore for Joey, but ended up heading to Piazzale Michelangelo instead, another place I have never been to. Unfortunately, it involved another huge set of stairs. Fortunately, it offered a wonderful view of the entire city from a hill top. After that we all crashed. Jenn even fell asleep in her clothes!

Panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo

Panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo

On Sunday morning we had Italian coffee together at a bar, spent some time on Ponte Vecchio and did a lot of shopping before catching our (delayed) train back to Rome. It was a wonderful weekend for sure.

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A Few Days in Berlin

After saying goodbye to Vienna, Sarah, Andrew and I hopped on the night train to Berlin. We arrived early in the morning and promptly found the longest route to our hostel. Sarah found the Generator hostel by typing in “fun, hip hostel in Berlin” into Google Search. Success! haha

First, we finished our final exams in the Burger King across the street, then we wandered around the city a bit. That night we went on the Generator’s pub crawl and met some people from the East Coast and also from Wales.

The next day we took the free walking tour of Berlin that Tomasina recommended. It was amazing. Our tour guide, Stewart, starts out by introducing himself as a finance major and a part-time rapper. Then he proceeded to rap about German history throughout our tour. We pretty much saw everything on this tour, starting with the building Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of (RIP). Stewart showed us the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the Bunker where Hitler committed suicide, the remains of the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the square where the book burnings took place, some churches, everything. He also pointed out some famous artists’ graffiti. Berlin is well known for its street art and it is everywhere.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

After the tour, Sarah and Andew headed back to the Generator and I pushed on to the Pergamon Museum. I really wanted to see this museum because it has a lot of the artwork taken from Greece, particularly the Pergamon Altar. However, I also saw Mesopotamian art that got me really interested in that area. I might have to make a trip there someday… I also found a soldier’s head from the Great Trajanic Frieze that might help me with my research later on. I was able to study the helmet and facial hair pretty closely! After the museum, I met up with Sarah and Andrew again and we had a wonderful dinner of Indian food. Once again, scarfing down ethnic foods that aren’t available in Italy.

Andrew and I at Neue Palais in Potsdam

Andrew and I at Neue Palais in Potsdam

The next day we took the train out to Potsdam, the palace complex that belonged to the Prussian kings. We started out at the tiniest palace and worked our way up to the largest Palace, Schloss Sanssouci. It was so hot that we were melting while we trekked around the complex. It’s not just a complex, it’s a city and it’s huge. I would almost say that from one end of the park to the other is not within walking distance (it’s at least questionable). Just as we were getting a bit delirious because of a shortage of water and a surplus of sweat, we found an oasis: a little stand selling ice cream, water, potato salad and souvenirs. That little boost of energy was enough to get us through the rest of the park. After five and a half hours of exploring, we hopped on the train back to Berlin and we all passed out, three dead-tired tourists on public transit. Then I grabbed my bag and headed to the airport.

Tübingen, here I come!

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Raindrops on Roses

View from Salzburg Castle

View from Salzburg Castle

We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning to catch the train to Salzburg, Austria. When we arrived, we took a long walk in the rain to our hostel. Our hostel had a wonderful view of the famous Salzburg castle, but the same view showed many a construction crane as well. After dropping our things off, we walked up to the castle as a group. I have never been to a castle as disappointing as the Salburg castle. It looks glorious from the outside, but there’s really not much to see once you’ve trekked up the insanely steep hill and paid admission to get inside. Okay, so there was one thing to see: There was a medieval fair going on (kind of like a Renaissance fair). The best part was the medieval band which had a very enthusiastic oboe player.

After the castle Andrea, Sarah, Kirsten and I decided to explore the city. As it turns out, Salzburg is not that big. Our walk from the train station to our hostel covered the entire city, but during our tour in the rain we visited the cathedral, the main shopping street and the palace. In the cathedral, Kirsten and I went below to the crypts, which were less scary than the word “crypt” makes it seem. When we were on Getreidegasse, we realized it must be the “Disneyfied’ street we read about in Cultural Studies class. Even the McDonald’s had an authentic-style street sign. Finally we crossed the bridge and wandered through the gardens of the palace. Andrew met up with us here.

Looking at Salzburg Castle from the Palace Gardens with Sarah

Looking at Salzburg Castle from the Palace Gardens with Sarah

Later that night we had our (paid-for) group dinner at another very Disney-like Austrian restuarant. Andrea, Verena and I tried Himbeer Radler, beer mixed with raspberry juice. So delicious! After dinner Verena took us to a monastery, which is basically a brewery. We all shared Märzen in liter mugs!

The next morning we packed up and hopped on a train to the little town of Mauthausen. It was a quaint little Austrian town just off of the Danube, but we weren’t there for its picturesque qualities. On the top of the hill overlooking Mauthausen stands the remains of one of the most brutal concentration camps. We had a tour guide who showed us the wailing wall, laundry room, living quarters, crematorium, torture room and gas chamber. It was a very sobering experience. This concentration camp was exceptional because it was not mainly for Jewish people. This camp focused on what the Nazis deemed political radicals, criminals, the insane and social radicals (homosexuals). People from all over the world were interred at Mauthausen and they had to work in a quarry until they died. At the waling wall there are plaques dedicated to people from Poland, Spain, Russia, Italy and the list goes on and on. This really hit home the fact that the Holocaust was not limited to the Jews.

After our tour of the camp we walked down the hill back to the train station. We did the reverse of what the Mauthausen prisoners had to do. The prisoners would arrive at the normal train station and the SS would force them to walk through the town and up the hill to the camp. Therefore, many townspeople saw the Nazis’ victims walk by their front doors for six years while the camp was in use.

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Another Visitor, Another Roommate

Recently I got back in contact with some friends I met in high school when I went to Northern Ireland for the summer. I found out that my friend Andrew Hamilton had been studying in Poland for the last few months. He was planning to do a bit of interailing this summer and when he found out that I was in Vienna, he made sure to come visit. So, Andrew arrived just hours after sending Hallie on her way back to the U.S. We were both surprised when we arrived back at my place to find out that my “extra bed” that I had offered Andrew was already occupied. Surprise! New roommate. They had told Diana when she moved out that I wouldn’t have another roommate, so I wasn’t prepared. Oh well. She seems nice. Her name is Paulina. She’s from Canada and she’s here for the summer to study music.

After figuring things out a bit, I had to, unfortunately, do homework. So, Andrew explored the city on his own using the map I gave him. Hours later he came home and we hung out in Billy and Joseph’s room until Billy got home from Scotland. Then we went to bed and Andrew slept on my floor (poor guy).

Andrew and I at Schönbrunn

Andrew and I at Schönbrunn

The next morning Andrea and I took Andrew to Schönbrunn Palace. That makes twice in one week. Except this time we explored the gardens more than I have in the past. Then I had to say goodbye to Andrew because I had to go to class and he would be leaving that night while I was nannying. During class Billy left early for a doctor’s appointment to check up on his appendix. They decided surgery was necessary and took out his appendix that night. His parents flew his brother in and we all went to go see him at the hospital the next day. I brought him plenty of Star Trek episodes to watch, but he still hasn’t gotten to them yet. That night Verena’s sister Marion gave us an architectural tour of Vienna–entirely in German. We started at the UNO city and got to go up to the top floor of one of the buildings to overlook the whole city. It was beautiful! This photo taken from the top of the building looks toward the city center. The large street that crosses the bridge continues through the to the other side of the city and our dorm lies only two blocks off this main street.

The View from UNO City

The View from UNO City

The tour ended at the Museums Quartier where the Architecture Center of Vienna was having a small party with cheap hot dogs and cheap beer. My new roommate Paulina and Billy’s brother Ben met us there. After spending some time at the architecture party, we moved to the center of the MQ so that Ben and Paulina could get the full MQ experience.

The next morning after visiting Billy again, I headed out to the 16th district to get more footage for my district project. I walked through the graveyard and tried to make it up to the palace, but I didn’t have time. I had to head back to the city center because we had a tour at the Jewish Museum. Our tour guide was interesting….. abrasive is probably a better word. She was trying to get us to interact and discuss, but it just wasn’t working. She showed us a screen print of some guy and we had to guess who it was. After minutes of awkward silence and forced guesses, she told us who this obscure Viennese Jewish man was and was appalled when we had never heard of him. I guess I just don’t know enough about Jewish culture. Note to self: Fix that.

This morning Andrea, Sarah, Joseph and I tried to go on a tour of the Ottakringer Brewery, but we misunderstood the website. Tours are offered daily, but you have to schedule one. So, we went to a Bier Garten instead and drank some Ottakringer and ate some delicious food.

Now it’s time to watch the Sound of Music before heading to Salzburg tomorrow morning. I’ve never seen it before!

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Hallie ist nach Wien gekommen.

So, Hallie arrived in the evening on Thursday and we started off with a bang by going to Cafe Sacher for a slice of Vienna’s famous Sacher torte. Apparently it’s her dad’s favorite kind of cake, so we took many pictures so as to make him jealous. Then Bobby, Billy, Andrea and I took Hallie on a short tour of the first district of Vienna. First we walked to Stephansplatz where we watched a street performer and then went inside the church for a bit. Then we walked through the Graben, a pedestrian street in Vienna, to the Hofburg where I showed Hallie the ancient Roman ruins beneath the city. Then we made our way to the Ringstraße, seeing the twin museums, parliament and the Rathaus. That night we had a sleepover in Billy and Joseph’s room. We pushed their beds together and watched The Sound of Music. Well, everyone else watched The Sound of Music. I fell asleep within ten minutes as usual.

The next morning Billy, Hallie and I woke up and met up with Sarah and Andrew at Schloss Schönbrunn, the summer palace of the old monarchs. We did the tour of the palace rooms, but it was nearly as impressive as I thought it would be. We also walked through the beautful grounds and gardens.

Sarah, Hallie, Andrew, Billy and I by the fountain at Schönbrunn

Sarah, Hallie, Andrew, Billy and I by the fountain at Schönbrunn

After our long tour of the palace Hallie and I got ready to go to the ballet. No trip to Vienna is complete without seeing a show at the opera house. So, Hallie and I ran to get a Käsekrainer, a sausage filled with cheese, and then met Sarah in the line to see Tschaikovsky’s Anna Karenina ballet. It was more modern and experimental than the last ballet I saw at the opera house, but it was beautiful! I think I like ballet more than opera, but I’ll have one more chance to test that. Our class is going to the opera together in two weeks. After the opera Andrew met up with us in the Museums Quartier and we all shared a bottle of wine until it starting raining and we went to Cafe Leopold to stay warm and dry.

The next morning I worked on homework while Hallie went to the Kunsthistoriches Museum. Andrea and I met up with her in the afternoon and took her on another small tour of the 1st district, which included a stop at Hoher Markt for some ice cream shaped like spaghetti.

Hallie enjoying Spaghetti Ice Cream

Hallie enjoying Spaghetti Ice Cream

In the evening Sarah came over to my dorm and she, Andrea and I made a traditional Austrian meal for Hallie. I prepared Leberkäse, a meatloaf kind of thing, with Semmel or rolls, and Käsespäztle, cheese on egg noodles. Sarah made Sommersalat again. It was so delicious! Then we all hopped on the Straßenbahn and headed to Baden to spend our evening at the Roman baths. It was so relaxing. My favorite part was the steam rooms. They each had different scents such as Eucalyptus. We were so relaxed until the kicked us out. We ended the evening with a girly sleepover and we watched Beauty and the Beast. I love that movie.

On Sunday morning we had plans to head out of the city to Wachau valley, but we opted to stay in Vienna so that Hallie could get the full experience. How could she leave without seeing artwork by Klimt and Schiele?! So, we headed straight for the Leopold Museum, which is now officially my favorite museum in Vienna. It is dedicated to art around the turn of the century, which I love. We saw so many works by Schiele and he is also now one of my favorite artists. My favorite drawing was titled Mother and Daughter. After the Leopold we enjoyed a meal at a cafe in the Museums Quartier. We soaked up some sun and listened to good song after good song played by the DJ for “Sounds of Summer in the MQ”. Our favorite song was by Sister Nancy. After lunch we went to the Belvedere so Hallie could see Gustav Klimt’s Kiss before she left Vienna. For dinner we went to our favorite restaurant, Centimeter, for some a very Austrian meal.

This morning Hallie packed up her stuff and I took her to the train station. It was so nice having a friend come and visit. I feel so loved. Thanks Hallie. Now I have to try and get as much homework done as possible before my friend from Northern Ireland, Andrew, arrives in Vienna and I get to be tour guide all over again!

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Bye Mai

The last week of May in Vienna is also my last week of German classes. Our teacher from Seattle, Verena arrived and we met her in the Museums Quartier for a drink. During June she will be teaching a Cultural Studies class about the Americanization of Austria. She said it would be a lot of hard work, but I am excited about it.

Last weekend many of the other students were out of town, leaving Andrew, Rebecca and me alone in Vienna. We made the best of it by meeting up and going to the Brunnenmarkt together. We bought fruits, vegetables and bread for cheap. That night we got together and made some of the best food. Rebecca prepared curry lentils while Andrew and I whipped up a delicious fruit salad. I also made Sommersalat. We atea delicious meal while watching the Little Mermaid. (In preparation for my trip to Copenhagen, capital of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales.)

After people returned from their weekend excursions, Andrea, Joseph and I decided to climb up the tower of Stephansdom, the main cathedral in Vienna. It was a bit of a disappointment because the top is just a room with four windows looking north, south, east and west. I did get some good pictures of the city and the colorful roof though. For example, this photo looking west shows the Haas Haus in the bottom left and many of Vienna’s churches.

Looking west from Stephansdom's tower

Looking west from Stephansdom's tower

On Monday, my roommate Diana invited everyone on my study abroad program to her classical guitar recital at school. Andrew, Ethan, Billy, Andrea and I met up near Stephansdom to walk to her school. Only the best students at her school performed, including her friend Vasile that I had previously met. Her performance was amazing! Here is a video of my favorite song. Please excuse my shakey hands!

Later that week we visited the Belvedere with our art history class. The Belvedere is a Baroque palace built for the war general that helped Austria defeat the Turks and protect the the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Now it is a beautiful museum built to house the general’s art collection and the Austrian collection. We focused on the architecture and Biedermeyer art, but we will be returning to see art around 1900 (the stuff I’m interested in). Can’t wait!

Art History class with Dr. O in the Belvedere

Art History class with Dr. O in the Belvedere

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All Things Viennese

Apparently I don’t write often enough for the McDonald family, so I will try to post twice a week instead of once. 🙂

On Tuesday after class a small group of us decided to attend the show at the opera house across the street from our school. You can get cheap standing tickets for only 3 or 4 Euro. Unfortunately they over-sold the standing area and we had to stand on the stairs. The Barber of Seville was playing. (Remember this episode of the Looney Tunes?)  It was very fun even though our feet hurt at the end of the night.

Rebecca, Andrea, Sarah and I waiting in line at the Opera.

Rebecca, Andrea, Sarah and I waiting in line at the Opera.

On Thursday our whole program got together and headed off to school for dinner. Brigitte, the school secretary, and Traudy, one of the teachers, taught us how to prepare the typical Austrian meal. A few students were assigned to making Wiener Schnitzel, which is like fried, breaded fillets of meat. They also fried up some mushrooms and zucchini in the same breading. Sarah and Rebecca tackled the Sommersalat, which means summer salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and onion. I started out cutting potatoes for the Erdapfelsalat or traditional potato salad, but then the girls needed help with the Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), so I moved over to that. I was amazed at how easy those dishes were to make! If you would like the recipe, let me know and I will send it to you!

The group enjoying the dinner we prepared!

The group enjoying the dinner we prepared!

Today I wandered around the city a bit and saw some beautiful things. I went to the Belvedere, which is a palace as well as a museum and saw the exhibition on Alfons Mucha, a Czechoslavakian Art Nouveau artist. It was really amazing. They even recreated the pavillion he designed for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. I hope to do my presentation for art history class on Mucha.

I also wandered down a street that was the site for public art. There was a cement wall that bordered the west side of the street that had several individual panels on it. The introductory panel was titled, “Kunst Projekt: Erdapfel”, which means Art Project: Potato. Each panel had a different work of art that had something to do with potatoes. One of my favorites was simply a hole cut in the cement wall in the shape of a potato. When you looked through the hole, you could see a beautiful park on the other side. This one was also great:

Potato Art on Argentinierstrasse

Potato Art on Argentinierstrasse

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