Sunday, January 1, 2012

Uncovering Austria: Vienna, St. Poelten, Melk, Linz, Steyr

Elisabeth headed back home in the morning, while Christine and I headed off to explore the Christmas markets around town. Christine had strategically mapped the location of the major markets and we were prepared to conquer all 13.

We began with Schönbrunn, where we walked around the grounds, as well,

Me with the opening of the Schönbrunn Christmas market

Me with a Brezel

Me with Schönbrunn

before heading to the Museumsquartier and Maria Theresa Platz,

Museumsquartier market

Parliament looking Christmasy

Vienna Christmas tram

then onwards to the Rathaus,

red, white and blue lights marking the entrance

opening to the Rathaus Christmas market...the most jam packed and tourist filled one so far

Me with the Rathaus

to Freyund,

old Christmas market, which was filled with craftsmen and more unique items as opposed to the standard Christmas market fare


Am Hof Christmas market right behind the palace

looping around towards St. Stephansdom we walked down Graben, which was filled with hanging chandeliers

St. Stephansdom

red Christmas decorations

Karlskirche market, yes there was a giant petting zoo right in front of the church and yes the kids could build giant forts out of hay. And, yes, there were so strange looking, hairy pigs nearby.

Sicilian Christmas market outside Staatsoper, where we ate these amazing pistachio covered things and Christine reminisced about living in Sicily, eating Sicilian food.

Finally, our last stop of the day: Belvedere Palace Christmas market, where we ate from the Kärntner stall. The woman behind the stall started speaking to me in English...first time that has happened in a while. I guess my German is sliding...

Exhausted, we headed back to Walter's, where we began the wait for Riannon and Chris to arrive. Lora had since decided to stay with another person from our program in Vienna. Chris arrived first after a series of texts via Christine, due to my phone's dead battery and the fact that Walter lacked Chris' number. A short while later Riannon arrived, breathless at the top of the stairs and plopped down with the rest of us. By 2am-ish we all made it to bed at last.

At 6am the first series of alarms sounded and one by one, we sleepily arose to dress, eat and head out to the conference. Walter left early to help Anne, the head of our branch of the Teachers of English in Austria organization, set up, so we were on our own, making our way across Vienna to Pädagogische Hochschule, the teacher's training school.

We took the U-Bahn to Wien Meidling and then proceeded to search for the appropriate bus. We spied it just as it was pulling away on the other side of the bridge from us. Waiting another 15 minutes until the next bus arrived, our little group ran into Lora and and her new friend, Nick, and our numbers increased. The minutes ticked away as we rode the bus and soon we were late. A few frantic calls from Walter later, and we were exiting the bus and marching into the main hall.

We bounced from session to session, ranging in topics from "Creativity" to "Grammar: Mistakes Native Speakers Make." Freed at about 5pm to make our way to a grand reception hosted by the joint British and American commissions. We listened to speeches, while being given glass after glass of champagne and told to eat more little open-faced sandwiches because enough people did not show up to the event. The night ended with a group breaking into Christmas carols and a large group heading off to Karlsplatz to enjoy the pre-Christmas season in the company of hairy pigs and hay-fort-building-children.

The next morning the alarms again began to sound at 6am and we all sleepily began to rise.This time we made it to the location of the conference without trouble, but somehow, still managed to be late. So, after the last course of the Seminar entitled "Teaching in Austria 101" Walter led a group of us to Pakistani/Indian food restaurant for lunch, where you decide the price you want to pay. The food was delicious!

From there, we made a quick stop around the corner at the Votivkirche, which was built by Emperor Franz Josef in thanks for surviving an assassination attempt.

inside the Votiv Kirche

Then, we headed straight to the Rathaus, where we met with the tour for the rest of our group.

First stop, these magic elevators that never stop. You have to jump on, or jump off...

inside the Rathaus

me in the seat of power

library in the Rathaus

music from a special exhibit outside the library featuring famous texts and scores revised by their creators, or scribbled upon by other famous someones

After Coffee and cake at the fancy Cafe across the street with a representative of the government, Riannon, Chris, Lora, Christine, and I headed off to explore one last market,

which I named the hidden alley Christmas market...aka. Spittelberg. It is made up of small alley ways filled with adorable almost English-cottage-y looking homes and specialty shops.

the cupcake stall, which was down one of the streets.

The others peeled off, as Chris had to leave to catch his train. Christine and I headed to our final, final market at the University complex near Walter's home.

It was there, that we discovered the strange Austrian game, which is something akin to a cross between shuffle board and curling.

Early the next morning, Christine left to catch her flight. Riannon and I headed out to explore Vienna. We began, to my complete and utter joy with

THE Hundertwasserhaus, which I had seen a few years earlier on a family trip, but hadn't had the time to enjoy.

Me and the Hundertwasserhaus

Me and the funky face on the side of the Hundertwasserhaus

After stalking the house for a good chunk of time, we decided to head over to the museum around the corner and explore more Hundertwasser art.

The Hundertwassermuseum

After enjoying the art, we enjoyed some Cafe time inside the Hundertwassermuseum Cafe.

Hundertwasser cafe mosaic

Then, we skidadled on over to the the Leopold Museum to view some of Riannon's favorite paintings by Egon Schiele, which is where Lora joined us. Lora and I were a bit creeped out after passing through a room filled with disembodied voices, hanging wires, and photographs of women covered in plaster and then the plaster casts were stabbed with sharp and pointy things.

We did, however, discover the famous faces from the Graz artist in the Leopold Museum. Klagenfurt has a fountain designed by the same artist with the same sort of faces.

After sipping some Glühwein with Walter and his contingent of French friends, Lora, Riannon and I headed off to bed.

The next morning, I was up and off early, leaving Vienna for other parts of Austria.

But first, a look at the the strange stone and brick church around the corner from Walter's house.

St. Pölten

I took a Railjet, which is one of the fancy new trains that feels like an airplane with screens that flash the train's speed and location. And before I could blink, I was arriving in the capital city of the province Niederösterreich. This city is the butt of many jokes in Austria and is essentially considered an ugly, industrialized, boring, little capital. But, it was on the way to my main destination and I've always been curious.

I arrived to a tornado of winds and barely survived crossing the street from the train station. You see, the town is perfectly built to funnel wildly whipping winds around each corner of the windy spiderweb-like streets. I never knew which street would catch the wind and which would shelter me from it. Each time I reached an intersection in the web, I would be slammed by a gust of wind.

Between all this wind-fighting and walking, I managed to discover the main square with

The Weihnachtsmarkt!

The Rathaus and the Weihnachtsmarkt with a few things knocked over from the massive winds.

I roamed around, taking pictures, quite enjoying the cute buildings of the central old town. I even discovered a Backwerk, which is a cheap and delicious carry-out sandwich/coffee/tea/sweets place that I used to frequent in the Erfurt train station last year. Ah, the memories.

Cafe Shubert with little drawings from kids...and words written in Slovene.

Anyway, I don't think I would want to live in this windy capital, but overall I think it was worth my short visit and I'm glad I took the time to brave the gusts.

Back on the train, my next stop was the famous abbey of Melk, which I had also briefly visited with my family, but our time ran out before we were able to tour the well-known library.

I exited, prepared to throw my things in a locker, only to find that all of the machines were kaputt. So I lugged everything with me on my trek over to the abbey atop the nearby hill.

As I walked, I admired the beautiful houses that lined the road and the little church near the train station.

The road to the abbey was rather empty and mainly filled with small Christmas trees.

At last, I climbed to the top of the stairs, which surprisingly didn't take very long at all, and reached the the abbey entrance.

After purchasing a timed tour card, I was set free to wait for an hour and a half. So. I explored the courtyard.

I also spent some quality alone time in the museum, which was built in the outer most tower. The abbey is still home to a rather competitive Gymnasium (American grades 5-12), which is housed in one of the wings. The students of the school had created a variety of exhibits and were even featured in a video of an interpretive dance describing the architecture of the abbey. Actually, the moment you entered the top-most level of the tower, you triggered a switch, which sent a toy train chugging across tracks over your head. The train then hit a switch, which set a projector in motion and a video playing. When one video finished, the train moved onwards to the next projector and a new video began. All of the videos were created by the students and starred the students and, occasionally, the teachers of the school. Apparently, the tower had been invaded by Turks at one time, during one of their many attempts on Vienna, and had also been occupied by Napoleon and his troops on his march eastward. Quite the historical tower.

At last the tour, was ready to begin...

After looping through several rooms, some filled with precious objects used in certain religious ceremonies, others with paintings by famous artists, and other's boasting the mark of the Habsburgs, who patorinized the abbey, we emerged out on to the grand balcony.

the view from the top

Re-entering, we immediately visited the library, which was a library of epic proportions.

the library



After walking around slackjawed for quite some time, we followed a spiral staircase down into the church.
amazing staircase looking up

looking down

the church

church advent wreath

Words fail to describe the splendor of the abbey, so I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

I retrieved my things from the abbey lockers, where I had left them and walked back to the train station, where I boarded the train for Linz, the capital of Oberösterreich, and the one time home of my grandmother during her refugee days.


I arrived in the evening and caught the tram, riding it to the stop where I met Jess, whom I had met at orientation and who also teaches in the same program. We chatted, watched German TV, and settled in for the night.

The next morning, I was off to explore, while Jess studied for Russian.

The Hauptplatz (main square)

the Weihnachtsmarkt, which was in full swing, and packed with British and Italian tourists attempting to communicate with the vendors. Notice all the beautiful paintings at the top of each stall, each one featuring a different attraction in Linz.

the Danube in the sun

Just across the Danube sits the New Rathaus with the Nibelungenbrücke leading straight towards it, covered in angels, just like the rest of the town. Apparently, Linz is known as the city of angels.

I hopped on the Pöstlingbergbahn, which has been running since 1891 and quickly reached the top of the Pöstlingberg.
view from the top

At the top, there was even a little bit of snow.
the snow and the flowers

During the summer months a Grottenbahn runs, which takes children through the magical fairytale woods. This little mountain is lined with little creatures pointing the way to the entrance.
gnome leading the way to the fairytale woods

In the later afternoon, I met up with Jess, and we wandered about the indoor attractions, as it was now pouring rain.

Top of the list: the famous Linzer Tort

After one last look at the lights of Linz and the many glowing angels, which seemed to be playing with balls of lights in every imaginable way, we headed back indoors.


The next day I headed off to another town to explore. This town and its nearby suburb are supposedly where the first Christkindlmarkt began. Christkindlmarkt is the more Austrian word for Christmas market, although you will also hear Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). It literally means the Christ child market, which makes sense because the Christ child is the little angel, who brings presents to children on Christmas in Austria. However, Austrians argue that the market is named after where all of the original Christmas markets began in the town of Christkindl, a little suburb outside of Steyr.

I exited the train and wandered about, discovering...

an old church

the town over the bridge

the castle

the Hauptplatz, which was thriving with tourists...

this blue building, my favorite

and the the Christkindl bus. This bus would take you to the suburb of Christkindl, where you could see a tiny church on a hill and mail your postcards or Christmas mail from the original Christmas town.

After a full day of exploring and marketing, I headed back to Linz, where Jess and I enjoyed some more German TV.

The next morning, I was off, returning to Klagenfurt on the long train journey through Salzburg, through the mountains and over mighty rivers.

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