South East Asia here we come

Well, in a couple days we are off on a 7 week trip to Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.   Our first stop is going to be in Bali where we will spend a couple weeks with one old friend and new friends we haven’t yet met at a villa in the artist town of Ubud.  We have never been to Ubud before and are really excited about our stay.

After we leave the villa, we are going to Siem Reap Cambodia, the starting point for visiting the famous Hindi – Buddhist – Khmer temples that have so fascinated people ever since they were discovered by the western world in the late 1500s.  From Cambodia, we are going to spend some time in Thailand (Bangkok and other areas TBD) and then make our way down the peninsula through Malaysia to Singapore.  We will finish our trip the end of March.

We are very excited about this trip and hope that internet connections are good enough so we can keep up to date entries in this blog as well as loading some pictures.

More Vienna Highlights

There is a lot to do in Vienna. The Hofburg is filled with Hapsburg history and a tour of the Imperial Apartments should be on every list of things to do. Likewise, Museum Quarter across the Ring has at least 5 museums of interest — the Kunsthistorisches Museum being the largest with three floors of European art and is worth a couple of hours of your time at a bare minimum. The Albertina at the Hoftburg itself is also filled with treasures. There are several churches inside the Ring worth a visit. There isn’t a fee to visit any Austrian church and some of the best to stop in are Stephensdom (the largest and its spire is a landmark around which the inner city seems to hum), St. Peters in all its Baroque splendor,

Schonbrunn Palace is the summer palace of the Hapsburgs that is a quick metro ride into the suburbs. You can send an email to the booking office and reserve a time for the tour in advance and skip a long line of folks trying to buy tickets. You will see about 40 rooms on the Grand Tour. There are add ons as well. Most of the garden areas are free. The small Privy garden is nice but not really worth a separate ticket price. It has lots of citrus and the same formal garden as Belvedere. The Glorietta ticket is for a climb to the top and a view of the palace and surrounding countryside. The cafe at the Glorietta has really nice food. The labyrinth and maze require the add on ticket and are fun for kids especially to get lost, play a few games and access a great playground.

Nacht Market is near Karl’s Church and fills a few blocks with produce, meats, Cafes and takeaway stands plus clothing, jewelry and other sundries. It is worth a stop around lunch time as a place to grab something good to eat.

Karl’s Church is one church with a twist — at least while renovations are underway. It’s gold dome dominates the cityscape. A baroque jewel — it has a large elevator and set of scaffolding that has become an attraction itself. For a small “donation” you get an elevator ticket to the top of the main church dome. Then you climb even higher on scaffolding into the cupola at the very top for a view of the city out of the windows. On the walk back to the dome’s elevator level, you pass all of the painted frescos that grace the dome — coming eye to eye with angels, Jesus, saints and Sistene Chapel type artwork you can almost reach out and touch. Getting this high into a church dome is special — seeing what you normally see from the church pew high above you at eye level is cool.

Secession near the Nacht Market is a building with some very strange art and one beautiful set of wall panels painted by Gustav Klimt. It was created for avant guard art gallery and work space, and it still has exhibit space. We saw one piece of art where the artist literally crawled and writhed on the floor. This is worth a stop to see the Beethoven Frescos by Klimt but the new exhibits are not really our cup of tea. We got a laugh out of it but little else beyond the Beethoven beauties.

Spanish Riding School is located in the Hofburg and is where you see the famous Lipanzanner stallions perform. We lucked out and got tickets on their website and it is a terrific performance. The winter riding hall is a marvelous space and the horses are grand. I finally got to see the “schools above the ground” where the horses leap into the air!

Prater is a world famous amusement park just outside the ring road. It has a famous Ferris wheel featured in the James Bond “Living Daylights” movie as well as “The Third Man”. Even if you don’t ride the thrill rides, it is a great place to find great beer gardens and great beer garden foods.

Stadpark is a cool and leafy retreat at the edge of the inner city. There is a golden Strauss statue being photographed by 100s of Japanese tourists every time a bus unloads them at the gates. There is a performance hall as well and you will be approached by Mozart attired clones trying to sell you concert tickets. But walk the trails and enjoy the gardens themselves.

Free Opera
— You can pay a small standing room only fee to see a bit of opera at the Opera house if you love it enough or want to see inside the plush house itself. (Tours in English are given on some afternoons for a fee as well.) But for free, you can watch Opera on a large screen on the side of the Opera House itself. They put out chairs and even have a person who will give you a program for a small fee. Starbucks is across the street — what more to you need?

Vienna, Austria — First days back in a favorite city

This our fourth trip to Vienna and we still love it. It is such a vibrant and beautiful city that is so easy to navigate.

We rented an apartment near the Belvedere Palace to get a little more space and to be able to make a few meals and our morning pot of tea.

It was an easy four hour train ride from Prague and the connecting S Bahn (local train) is near our building. We also have tram #71 which takes us directly into the center each day. This must be a city full of honest folks because you buy your ticket, walk through the U Bahn (metro) and get on the train. You time stamp the ticket yourself and in all our visits no one has ever checked us to see whether we pay or not. Yet everyone seems to pay — just as we did! We have been sharing an 8 day ticket by stamping two days on it with the current date — which is allowed for group travel at a discount. Because the day passes are for 24 hours, we have been able to squeeze an extra day out of it depending on when we start out in the day and how much walking we do.

Vienna is a walker’s city — wide sidewalks, no dog poop, traffic signals that make sense and have an audible signal as well. And most of the city center is flat. Hills surround the city (Tales of the Vienna Woods), but it is easy walking downtown. As it warms up, most of the city will have good shade from the trees lining most of the streets.

Our first full day, we just walked and re-familiarized ourselves with the city and also with its coffee culture. We rode the trams a bit to re-learn the routes and stopping points for major sites. The core is the city is ringed with a wide boulevard (called The Ring) and other arteries radiate out from it. Most of the inner ring is free of traffic and some streets are 100% pedestrianized. There is also world class shopping here to be sure.

We found a few churches that we hadn’t been in before and visited about five as we happened upon them. Stephensdom had a special colored artsy light show going on which lit the altars in interesting colors. St. Peter’s was still dripping with baroque layers of carved decoration and gilt. The Augustiner Church was sedate in comparison. Austria is a very Catholic country and the churches are in full use.

Many of the large art museums are conveniently located together in Museum Quarter just across the Ring from the Hofburg Palace. This area used to be stables for the Hofburg.

We have been on all of the Hofburg tours (Imperial Apartments, The Treasury, etc.) except for seeing the Spanish Riding school performance, so we made on-line bookings for that.

We noticed that a large installation for the Life Ball was going on at the Rathaus (City Hall) — and we planned to attend the opening on that Saturday night along with 35,000 others!

Our second day of real sightseeing took us to the Belvedere Palaces and the art collection there. We like the Belvedere because it is a smaller collection (compared to 3 floors in the huge Kunsthistorisches museum) and well organized. The former palace rooms are part of the show. Plus, the Gustavo Klimt paintings are some of our favorites. The Belvedere is actually two summer places built for the same guy — I guess one summer home just wasn’t enough. The upper palace sits high on a hill and gives a nice view of the city. When you have indulged your senses with the art and the decoration of the rooms (no cameras allowed), you can stroll through a huge garden — laid out in a stylized format down past a beautiful fountain to the lower Belvedere palace. There at the lower Belvedere is where they display changing exhibitions. There are stables, an old Orangerie building that has been updated for special exhibits, privy gardens and a back gate onto Renweg — the street where we rented an apartment. We had a nice tasty lunch on site in one of the Cafes.

The Belvedere can be toured in about 3 hours if you are in a hurry, but if you have the day, it is a great way to spent time in Vienna.

Photo album to be added soon!