Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

Vienna and Krakow, Part 7.

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

You ready for more Krakow? Cuz you’re about to get it.

Krakow is located in a really interesting place. It was once a saltwater sea there. That’s why there’s a huge salt mine nearby, it’s the dried remains of the sea. In addition there were people there 120,000 years ago, and rhinos, and mammoths. We’ll get to that in a minute. Here’s an Wikipedia article on Stone Age Poland:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone-Age_Poland

Back to architecture in Krakow: in the center of the Old Square is the Cloth Hall which was a massive market for centuries. Now the stalls are filled with vendors selling crafts and tourist items and the second floor is a museum of paintings.

 

There are seals and crests painted all over the walls for different areas of Poland. This one was my favorite: a sword with two fish gritting their teeth.

Education for everybody is a relatively new development in Western history so I imagine the reason there are sculptures over the doors of some of the older houses was a sign of who lived there to the illiterate. I saw a ton of them. I got pictures of a rhino and a lobster.

An aspect I adore in the architecture I saw was how when chunks of major buildings needed repair or burnt down no one made any attempt to match the style of the original, they used whatever style was popular that day. That’s how you end up with facilities that l0ok like they were hot-glued together from other mismatched bits. Let’s look at Wawel Castle. It’s kind of noticeable from the outside but wait, it is all made clear when we approach the Cathedral inside.

Just so you know, this is where the dragon lives. And in case you forget, you are reminded everywhere you go within the castle walls. Here’s the 100% true story of the not-made-up Wawel dragon (name: Smok Wawelski).

The Wawel Dragon tale takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes, and devouring their livestock. In many versions of the story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young maidens. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. The cobbler’s apprentice (named Skuba) accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate it and became so thirsty, it turned to the Vistula River and drank until it burst. The cobbler married the King’s daughter as promised, and founded the city of Kraków.

So dragon drank river and exploded. Fast forward to when they’re digging up the ground to make the castle and the diggers find a bunch of bones. They didn’t research what they are because OF COURSE they’re the dragon bones, right? I mean, duh. Turns out one is a mammoth bone, one is a blue whale rib (remember, there was a saltwater sea there millions of years ago) and one was a rhino skull. The bones are now hanging outside the church’s front door.

Here’s a map of the castle within the walls. Note the icon in the upper right corner. We’ll get back to that.

Like most castles within walls, it’s like a small city in there. There’s residences for the important people and the cathedral and the parliament maybe and I imagine the equivalent of a 7-11, all manner of buildings.

But the best part is the cathedral. I don’t know if you’re ready for the hodge-podge of periods. I certainly wasn’t.

ALL THE STYLES. ALL OF THEM. I loved it. I totally get if other people are bothered by it, but not me. I am firmly on Team Random Edifice. And I especially appreciated all the dragon elements that are incorporated into the structure itself. Like the gutters.

Bonus: The ones in the middle looked like skeksis (skeksii? skeksesses?).

There’s this carving near the door of a dragon.

Now, do you remember my sexy dead guys from Vienna? The skeletons propped up on their side? I saw that carved into the crypts in this church. I guess that’s an acceptable dead person pose in Eastern Europe. *The More You Know* ====?

And unsurprisingly I was delighted by the art nouveau gates outside the church with the chestnut motif. Big fan.

So, the actual dragon. Now, we all know he’s dead because he exploded but his cavern is still there and you can walk through it. At the end is a sculptural representation of Smok that supposedly shoots fire. I say supposedly because it was closed until spring. I couldn’t walk through the cavern and I only saw the sculpture from the top of the hill.

But I got to see a great view of the river and all the duckies and swannies swimming in the non-frozen part.

Unrelated to anything else: The ladies’ bathroom had a sign for breastfeeding but to me it looked like Dracula swishing his cape over his shoulder.

Here, I photoshopped it to make it clearer what I’m seeing.

Next entry: Schindler Factory.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 6.

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Hey hey! Did everyone have a nice Judeo-Christian-Spring-awakening holiday weekend? I hosted Passover in my home for fourteen people so that was a thing I pulled off by the skin on my teeth.

So Krakow! A very very old city in Poland! But first, let’s look at some random stuff that does not neatly fit anywhere else.

Graffiti from both Vienna and Krakow that I liked.

A piece of ancient oldness chillin’ in the Vienna train station because they have so much art they can just put that stuff any old place:

The Rathaus in Vienna at night. The Rathaus (pronounced how you would think, Rat House) is the main government building of the town, where you would go to get a permit or pay your taxes, that kind of thing. It is from the late 1800s but it is faithfully designed in Gothic style. The Viennese Rathaus has a giant public park in front of it and during the Frozen Months it is a ice skating rink with colored lights in the trees and pop music. It was so lovely that The Moomins and I stood there in the epically cold weather and simply enjoyed the people skating to Katy Perry.

Now on to Krakow. Krakow is going to be a bit darker than Vienna because instead of museums The Moomins and I went to several places of Jewish interest and that means Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory, etc. Therefore, less upbeat. You have been warned.

Krakow is OLD. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Kraków, also Cracow or Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading center of Slavonic Europe in 965. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centers of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs. It was the capital of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569; the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1596, the Free City of Kraków from 1815 to 1846; the Grand Duchy of Cracow from 1846 to 1918; and Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1998. It has been the capital of Lesser Poland Voivodeship since 1999.

A Voivodeship is like a state with a Governor called a Voivode. They only exist in Central and Eastern Europe. My point is Krakow is super-old. When we arrived early in the morning we went to our hotel. While we were waiting for our room the front desk asked us if we wanted to have breakfast in their medieval wine cellar and we were like, “Hell yes, I want to eat eggs and toast in a medieval wine cellar, thank you.” I spoke to the front desk afterwards and they said don’t get too excited, every building in the city center has a vintage basement. There’s a whole city under the city, they ain’t special. Lotta old all over.

Another thing I learned from the front desk staff is that they don’t have myths and legends, they have truths and realities. I’ll explain. As we were checking in, the front desk girl pulled out the map of the city and started circling things. “Here is where the hotel is, and here is the city center, and over here is Wawel Castle, and if you’d like to meet our dragon he lives here, and here is…”

Notice she didn’t say, “If you’ve heard our story about the dragon, blah blah blah.” No. The dragon is real, he lives here and you can visit him. They also strongly believe in gnomes who we will meet when we go to the salt mines. My favorite conversation of this style is when we took a walking tour of Kazimierz. Our guide named Jack said, “Have you met our dragon?” and I said I had not yet but was planning to. Jack said matter-of-factly, “You should come back on the first of June. Our dragon sends out invitations to all the rest of the world’s dragons and they come here and there’s a parade of dragons.” I don’t know about you but you bet your sweet butt I’m going to the dragon parade at some point, are you kidding me? That sounds amazing.

Due to being around for millennia, Krakow has awesome architecture.

I took way too many pictures of that church at the end. I loved the step style that is reminiscent of Dutch step buildings, but it doesn’t only go across and down, it dips back down before it goes up which makes it spikier. I attached a picture of a Dutch-style building in New York so you can understand what I’m saying.

The city, even though it is ancient, is very much alive and adapting. I took this photo to show Krakow keeping it modern. The building to the right was torn down, and the wurst over the door on the right has been removed and now it’s a ramen place. In the place of the torn down building is a tex-mex food truck. Very current with the times.

Next entry: more Krakow including its ancient fossils.

Addendum: Look at these pictures of the Dragon Parade! That looks super-fun. I am on board with that.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 5.

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Okay, last entry on Vienna. Get ready for some art.

First, more food. This is apple strudel. Sitting in a warm bath of vanilla sauce. With swirls of whipped cream on either end. *sniff* I miss this so much.

The Moomins and I walked past a print shop where we saw real rebellious students working on real rebellious posters and banners. Hand-painting them! I was so impressed.

Some Renaissance smooshed into the Baroque. This is called the Schweizertor (“Swiss door”) and it’s on one of the many MANY buildings in Vienna that belonged to the monarchy.

And off to the right is a panel from the same period with some mighty fine gryphons. A+ on those gryphons.

The rest of the building has your standard Baroque extra drama with a side of expressive. I especially likes this guy wrestling what I assume is the Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades, but they look like weird tigers.

Speaking of the monarchy, the primary reigning family of Austria was the Habsburgs and as with most royal families there was cousins marrying and all that. I could not stop thinking about Paul Reubens on 30Rock when he played His Royal Highness the Duke of Terechia, the Earl of the Duchy of Westphalia, Prince Gerhardt Messaschmidt Rammstein van Hoppe.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XkzeDecjkg

Great character. SOOOOPER inbred.

I wanted to go to the Museum of Applied Arts because that’s the area I’m most interested in. I like the useful arts best. The coolest exhibit they have was the first built-in kitchen. Before this concept you bought a stove and a cabinet for dishes and none of that was provided in the home already. I guess it never occurred to me that there someone had to think of it. Here’s the Wikipedia description:

The Frankfurt kitchen was a milestone in domestic architecture, considered the forerunner of modern fitted kitchens, for it realized for the first time a kitchen built after a unified concept, designed to enable efficient work and to be built at low cost. It was designed in 1926 by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky for architect Ernst May’s social housing project New Frankfurt in Frankfurt, Germany. Some 10,000 units were built in the late 1920s in Frankfurt.

And here are some chairs displayed in one of the hallways. No relation to anything. Just liked them. Who doesn’t like wood carving and little antlers?

The last museum I went to was the Albertina. It was a residence for one of the members of the royal family, a Duke or an Earl, there were so many, it’s hard to keep track.

They have state rooms on display and they were those rooms you always see in movies where you go through door after door after door and they’re all in rows, around the same size with no furniture. People would ship their bureaus and armoires of clothes so there were no closets. And clearly they used chamber pots so there were no bathrooms. Just salon after salon. By the way, that’s why it often sucks to live in a pre-war apartment in New York City – no closets. Closets are a recently new invention.

The only stationary piece of furniture were mammoth ceramic heating units in the center of the room. The cold there is real, people.

I thought the chandeliers were pretty great. They were not just slapped together like crappy hotel ballroom ones, they were clearly crafted with love and care. It makes a difference and I appreciated it.

So as I pottered from room to room looking at the art on the walls and the rooms themselves I got another artistic surprise. In one of the room was… Albrecht Dürer’s Grouchy Bunny! I didn’t know this was the museum he lived in! Hi Lil Bun-Buns! You look so mad and I love you!

Mr. Grumples was behind glass (hence the reflections you see there) so I could get right up to him, like inches from him. That rabbit is fantastic. He looks like he was painted yesterday. Now, the reason I said I didn’t know this was the museum he lived in is because there are representations of The Hare all over the city, so I knew he was SOMEWHERE in Vienna. There’s a great pink version outside the Opera House.

And a green version on top of a snack stand:

So I knew this was The Hare’s city but there’s like 200 museums so whatever. The great thing was next to The Hare was two other small paintings by Dürer and one was a wing. Guys, this wing was amazing. Every tuft on the feathers, every color shift, everything was rendered perfectly. I did my best to take photos of it but keep in mind this painting is quite small so the detail is pretty flawless. As Kendrick Lamar says, “Sit down. Be humble.” I did. I was.

The gift shop had mini versions of The Hare for sale but they were pricey so I took a pass. I would have wanted to get them in every color plus silver plus gold anyway and it would have drifted into $1,000 at that point so I opted for none.

I’d like you to know that in looking for additional information on The Hare I found this nightmare fuel in Nuremburg. What the fresh hell is this? Ugh.

I think that’s everything on my five days in Vienna. If it appears that I only looked at churches and museums and ate cake and drank hot beverages, then I have portrayed my experience correctly. Much to my chagrin I didn’t get a chance to see my girl the Venus of Willendorf. I studied her for art school and I’ve always wanted to see her. Maybe next time.

Next entry: Krakow.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 4.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Before we get into The Museums of Vienna IV: Holy Crap That’s A Lot Of Art, there’s some unrelated elements we should cover.

When The Moomins and I waited for our daily tram to town (they still have trams in Vienna!) our stop was in front of a rather plain building with one architectural detail: A weird-looking lioness under the lower-right-hand window. The Moomins and I decided that we would rent that apartment for the sole reason of dressing up the lion for major holidays. Easter? Lion gets a basket of colorful eggs and bunny ears. Christmas? Ugly sweater and blinky lights. Halloween? Ghost costume with cut-out eyes and bag full of candy, and so on and so forth.

I went to an international market and saw a fruit that looked a bunch like the dragon eggs from Game of Thrones so I bought one and ate it. It’s called a snakefruit and inside it looks like if a clump of lychees were mashed into the shape of a head of garlic and it tasted like an apple. Definitely one of the more odd fruits I’ve tried. Big identity issues.

Did you know they used the guillotine a lot more recently than you would think? I attributed it to the French Revolution and then I thought it fell out of favor for, like, a firing squad. I was incorrect.

Vienna is known as the city of Mozart. He was a big damn deal there and there are references to him everywhere. In front of one tiny theater there is a sculpture of Papagano, the bird guy in The Magic Flute.

And in one of the many churches in Vienna one of them had a memorial on the wall that Moomins translated. Mozart wrote a requiem which he never heard played because he died. The plaque on the wall said this was the church Mozart’s requiem was played immediately after his untimely demise.

If you haven’t heard Lacrimosa from the Requiem recently you should because it is so beautifully depressing. “Exquisite gloominess” is a good description. It’s been used in a ton of movies / TV shows / dog food commercials / etc.

Fun bonus: the same church had some leftover Middle Ages art on the wall that they thoughtfully preserved.

So on to the museum du jour, the Kunsthistorisches (“Museum of Fine Arts”). It has a really good collection of Bruegels including “The Tower of Babel” as well as a megaton of other awesome art. Interestingly enough, my favorite part was the building itself. So many grotesques on the ceiling! I’m surprised I didn’t walk into a column I was staring up so much.

People were taking wedding photos in there because of The Photogenic.

The coolest thing was related to a massive wall of scaffolding. Gustav Klimt, before he was the painter we know and love with the gold and the textures, did your standard normal-type portraiture and he was damn good at it. Like, astonishingly good. I saw this charcoal drawing and was blown away. Klimt’s choices of how much to include and leave out gives it a misty tone but nothing is missing. In person it is so evocative.

So there was this scaffolding:

Because when Klimt was still working for The Man instead of doing his own thing he painted these awesome oil paintings in the corners of the walls where no one can appreciate them. And they are so great. They represent the collection of art you can see in the museum and his photorealism is impeccable.

Because it’s dark up there and I was balancing on one foot to try and photo these it’s tough to see how good they are but I’ll attempt to describe. For example, in the picture below I couldn’t tell if the ceramic flowers behind the guy’s head were painted or real ceramics and I was less than six feet from it. I had to bob my head back and forth like an owl to see if they were 3D.

The Egyptian tableau, you felt like you could reach out and touch it.

There was a bust crammed in a corner that Klimt painted. I could have sworn it was real. I’m telling you, my jaw was on the floor. The man had SKILLZZZ.

A little more about the cafe culture. After lovin’ on the art The Moomins and I headed off to the nicest coffee house we attended during our visit, Cafe Central. There are several high-end coffee houses in Vienna but this is the only one we went to. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The café was opened in 1876, and in the late 19th century it became a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene. Key regulars included: Peter Altenberg, Theodor Herzl, Alfred Adler, Egon Friedell, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Anton Kuh, Adolf Loos, Leo Perutz, Alfred Polgar, Adolf Hitler, and Leon Trotsky. In January 1913 alone, Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud, Joseph Stalin, Hitler, and Trotsky (the latter two being regulars) were patrons of the establishment.

Hitler AND Trotsky were regulars? Fancy!

Moomins and I decided to make a day of it and I ordered a salad. What arrived was not what I expected. It was a small plate with some delicate lettuce and a bit of tomato on top and under that the dish was separated into four sections: pickled cucumbers, pickled potatoes, pickled carrots and something else I forgot (that was pickled). It was absolutely delicious but salad is different there. Just a heads up on that.

Moomins got the daily special which was chicken with mushrooms and peppers served with semolina dumplings. If anyone knows the recipe for Viennese semolina dumplings please send it to me today. No, get in a time machine and send it to me yesterday. It was so scrumptious and when I go on the web to look for the recipe I get some crappy soupy matzah ball type thing. Unacceptable.

For dessert we got the small sampler of pastries and a pear and poppy seed crumble. The sampler was a good choice because we got a wee taste of several different flavors like lemon curd and hazelnut.

And I learned an important life lesson: I do not like poppy seeds. I’m fine with them sprinkled on a bagel but when they’re wet and slathered en masse on a baked good they taste like the smell of shower mold. Not a fan. Moomins got to eat 90% of this.

Next entry: The end of the Art of Vienna and on to the Art of Krakow.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 3.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

The Moomins and I are expert travelers. Without making an effort we managed to see seven museums in five days. If we had tried and pulled ourselves out of bed before 10:00am we probably could have done far more but seven isn’t too shabby. One of those museums was The Belvedere. Here’s Wikipedia’s description of it:

The Belvedere is a historic building complex in Vienna, Austria, consisting of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a Baroque park landscape in the third district of the city, on the south-eastern edge of its centre. It houses the Belvedere museum. The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.

It’s a beautiful building and I’m sure the gardens are great in the summer, but I went there during Frozen Mud Season so yeah, gardens not so great. Here are my pics of the exterior.

I love how the sphinx has dirty boobies because people keep rubbing them. Never change, everybody.

Here’s a picture through a rainy window of the gardens and the city in the distance.

On the front lawn was a fun piece of modern art. It’s one of the best-named pieces I’ve ever seen. It’s called “Fat House” and it’s… a fat house. The only name more descriptive would be “Morbidly Obese Cottage.”

The inside of the Belvedere had lovely gallery spaces that were very very Baroque.

The only time I got miffed was when they put perfectly good paintings of guinea fowl a million miles above the doorway, as shown by this picture here. I can’t see the guinea fowl, guys! Provide a ladder please and thank you!

We went in the main entry hall and immediately noticed the pervasive scent of church incense. The Moomins and I were confused because there’s no church in there. We decided to start with the Medieval Art Wing and headed to that area and the smell got stronger. When we opened the door to the wing The Moomins and I were greeted by a sight we were wholly unprepared for.

Get ready.

In the entry hall to the Medieval exhibit, with no explanation whatsoever, was an oversized white sculpture of a woman on all fours using a broken shard of mirror to tweeze her mustache while wisps of church incense puffed out of her butthole.

I was mentally not equipped to research the reasoning for this at the time but I just went to the Belvedere website and this is what I found:

Larger than life, she kneels on a tabletop with her blouse pushed up. The only sign of her divinity is the frankincense emanating from an opening in her body. Unfazed by the viewer’s gaze, in an all too human manner she plucks a hair from her chin. The intimate nature of this representation is in diametrical opposition to typical depictions of Olympian gods. This is Hera by Ines Doujak.

I do not understand why this is a thing that is. Later on I was climbing the giant staircase and at the top I saw what I assumed were giant ceramic jars decorated with snakes. Nope! Those are supposed to be intestines. It was at this point I turned to Moomins and said, “I’m concerned about the curators of this museum. I think they’re trying to tell us something. Like their mom didn’t hug them enough, maybe. Or their pet was hit by a car and that is their primary childhood memory. There’s definitely some weird trauma they’re working through.”

There wasn’t only disturbing confusing modern art. There was also old art which can be disturbing and confusing in their own way, but it’s different. For example, one of the elements I love about paintings from around 1300 is the exquisite way fabric is rendered and how everything else looks terrible. I appreciate that they didn’t know how to do perspective so that looks janky as heck:

And the horses look like they’re on drugs and are vaguely humanoid:

And these farm animals appear to be plotting to kill that old man doing a poor job of hiding his Fifth Element head:

I fixed it to accurately portray what I think I’m seeing.

This was surprising. It’s a plague-ridden time, you would think there would be skulls all over for reference and the artists would be able to paint them accurately. You would be wrong.

There were a ton of other pieces of art from all different periods. The Belvedere is most famous for having “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt but it’s not that amazing in person. I would recommend you go to the Neue Gallerie in New York City. That museum has “Woman in Gold” which I think is a far superior Klimt. I was very psyched to enter a room and bump into one of the paintings I studied in school, “Napoleon Lookin’ Hella Patriotic On A Horse” by Jacques-Louis David.

My favorite painting was a thoroughly non-famous one I just happened across. It’s an exceptionally well-rendered painting of four vultures. I really wanted to shove it under my shirt and take it home but it’s a large painting and I most likely would go to prison so my desires went unquenched.

And, of course, we had coffee and cake in their cafe. And it was magnificent.

Next entry: What else? More museums.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 2.

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Continuing with Vienna: I let The Moomins book our hotel. I have one rule about hotels, and that is I don’t want to share a bathroom. If I need to pee I’m not waiting. Private bathroom is a must. The Moomins took that and got us a room. Not a hotel room. A room. It was a good room, but we had to climb a flight of stairs and there was no breakfast or bellhops or free shampoo or ice machine. But it was also forty-five Euros a night and well-located so I think for the amount of time we were in Vienna (five days) that is perfectly fine. While our room had the depressing ambiance of a place two spies would meet to have their illicit and doomed love affair during the Cold War, it was toasty and comfy, the shower worked, there was a towel-warmer that did a stellar job of drying our freshly-washed socks, I would recommend it. Hotel Arpi. Check it out.

Before we get into one of my favorite moments of the trip, let’s look at some random bits that fit neatly into no category. I saw this eatery from the second level of a double-decker tourist bus.

Okay. If you’re going to have the majority of your signage in English I am going to assume all of your signage is in English. Therefore, if you write “abnormal gut” in the upper corner, I’m not going to think, “Oh, that means ‘abnormally good’ in German.” I’m going to think it has something to do with your food giving people IBS which is not a great selling point. A helpful hint from Auntie Jessica Who Works In Advertising.

And look at the level of concern about allergies on this menu. I saw this a few times and I was really impressed.

The reason I know so much about menus is because Vienna is a cafe culture and every single day The Moomins and I would stop in to a cafe and get tea or coffee and cake. There is no flavored coffee, but there is a myriad of ways for it to be served, and a big ingredient is whipped cream. It’s always served with a small glass of water as well. And sometimes a tiny cookie. They’re a classy bunch, the Viennese.

On to the focus. There is an enormous important church in the middle of town called Stephansdom and if you go to Vienna you are required to visit it. Here is Wikipedia’s description:

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP. The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral, seen today in the Stephansplatz, was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. The most important religious building in Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and has, with its multicolored tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.

It is extremely beautiful and the roof is pretty great.

Here’s a picture someone else took of the other side. More fancy tile work on the roof.

The inside is your standard major European cathedral filled with a hodge-podge of relics and art which is fine. Gorgeous, lofty, almost no original windows due to bombs dropping (boooooo). Here’s a video to give you a sense. However, around the corner maybe a block away was another church, Peterskirche, and that’s the one I want to discuss. It’s easily recognizable because of its large green dome.

The interior is a big round room and it’s the picture I used for the “stay tuned” post earlier.

 

I went there for a concert the second night I was there and I sat up in front on the left. For over an hour I sat up in front on the left. The significance of that will become more important later. I enjoyed the concert quite a bit (chamber music with Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms) but I kept getting distracted by the massive gold statue in front of me. I couldn’t take any pictures because it was dark but I found a photo online that gives you an idea. The sculpture in front of me glinting in the light was a representation of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Son and Holy Ghost were fine but the Father, aside from having the Illuminati Triangle Halo which takes some getting used to, was holding a wand that looked EXACTLY like the Elder Wand from Harry Potter.

I mean, REALLY.

So that was amusing to me. The next day we found ourselves outside the church and we went in to see what it looked like in daylight. There was a service going on so I did my best to be respectful and quiet. That wasn’t a problem until I wandered up to near where I was sitting to try to take a photo of the wand. I noticed off to my side there was a big altar with someone’s painting on top and beneath that was… a skeleton dressed in full regalia covered in silver and glass jewels and doing what I can only describe as a sexy come-hither pose. “Hey ladies. There’s room in this ossuary for two.” *pat, pat, pat*

Oh. My God. I was sitting next to a jaunty skeleton for an hour and I didn’t know it??? It helps to know that there is a book on this, I book I own and covet and I had no expectations of seeing the Teutonic saints so happening upon one filled me with unbridled delight. Here’s the problem: services were going on and The Moomins is kind of deaf so I had no way to convey my joy. Bonus was the other guy on the other side in the same position but mirrored. Two! Two festive dead guys!

Next entry: More art and I think the Viennese museum curators need a hug.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 1.

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

You know what’s the best idea ever? Going to Eastern Europe in February. That was a testament to my smartitude, I’ll tell you what. Normally it’s not a huge deal but this year, whoooo. As I mentioned briefly before there was some atrocious mega-freeze that floated on over from Siberia (an area noted for its excellent production of cold) and it made being a tourist very difficult. I was convinced my nose was going to turn black and fall off like that guy from Mount Everest. Seriously, airports were closed all over and it didn’t stop Europe from functioning but it sure slowed it down.

But The Moomins and I persevered. We did so much and I saw so many art chums in museums. I don’t know if I’m alone in this but I studied art history in high school and college and when I encounter a painting or sculpture I’m familiar with I like to greet it like an old friend. “Hey, a Rembrandt self portrait! Hi Rembrandt Self Portrait! How’s it going for you, haven’t seen you in a while. Looking good, looking good. Love your lights and shadows, keep it up.” It is important to realize I say all these words out loud and that is why I think I’ve never been mugged. I make any would-be muggers floating around the museum uncomfortable. More on the art I shmoozed with later. First, we look at architecture.

If you visit Vienna it is entirely possible to to not go into any museum and still see some great art and desifn. The architecture in Vienna is a big reason many people travel there. It certainly was a major motivation for me. That and Viennese cake. About 50 / 50 between the architecture and the cake.

 

Because like most European cities there has been war and war and a massive fire and then some more war, most of the architecture is relatively new. Even though Vienna was founded in approximately 500 AD by some Romans there is none of that to be found. It’s almost all Baroque architecture dating from between 1600 – 1750 AD. Occasionally some Gothic will pop out (1100 – 1500 AD) and if you’re really lucky, some Medieval might make an appearance but get ready for Baroque. Which is unfortunate for me because I do not adore Baroque. It’s fine, but it’s definitely not my favorite art style. It can be… much. I’ve made my feelings clear about Baroque in this previous entry.

For example, Baroque loves clouds and angels. The problem with clouds is that they are great in paintings but when you try to make them out of stone they can look like plastic bags of liposuctioned human fat stapled to a pole. I am speaking specifically of this. First one is my picture but it sucks so I found a better one.

See what I mean? Lumpy. Overly ornate and lumpy. You need to be careful with Baroque. It can be absolutely beautiful but it can also veer into Jabba the Hut territory if you’re not careful. However, betwixt the Baroque is my favorite art movement, Secession. Secession is a sub-section of Art Nouveau and when it’s done right it is so beautifully balanced. The most famous of those buildings is the bluntly named Secession Building which looks like this:

I was so excited to see this building. I love it. I used elements of it in my college classes, like the three owls on the side:

But I didn’t take those pictures. Would you like to know why I didn’t take those pictures? Because the Secession Building is COMPLETELY COVERED IN SCAFFOLDING ARE YOU KIDDING ME. I understand that it needs renovations but whyyyyyyy? In between the scaffolding you could see the sassy lizards that guard the door.

And you could appreciate the enormous mosaic planters outside the front door.

Aaaaaand that’s about it for the outside. Inside is a profoundly interesting painting done by Gustav Klimt called The Beethoven Frieze and it is magnificently weird and I can’t get enough of it.

It goes all around the top of the room but the most important part (in my opinion) is the giant dead-eyed gorilla (?) surrounded by women of all shapes and sizes and also Death (?). I love it.

I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t want to know what’s happening. I don’t want my initial reaction of confused glee to be tampered with by actual information on the meaning. No one tell me.

In the next entry: probably more architecture. Definitely more art.

I left! And I’m back! Sorry for not telling you!

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Hey all, I went on vacation. Because when it’s winter where’s the one place you should go? That’s correct – Eastern Europe! Especially if there’s a polar vortex blowing over from Siberia, then it’s really perfect. So that’s precisely what I did. I went to Vienna, Austria and Krakow, Poland for ten days. Despite the frigid biting weather I had a really good time and as soon as I’m done sorting through my photos I will get to the telling of tales. In the meantime, look at this awesome picture of the inside of a Baroque church. Let it hold you over until further imagery comes.

Guatemala, Part 6.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Lake Atitlan. Get ready.

But first, Antigua’s main plaza! That I forgot to add to the Antigua posts earlier! I love how there’s old ruins and new ruins and everything all sort of mooshed together.

And I only made it to the main cathedral at night so all my pictures are blurry, but here’s the best of the bunch. A beautiful building, beautifully lit.

Okay, Lake Atitlan. We stayed at a hotel with THE MOST AMAZING GARDENS EVER. The owner started them several decades before and lovingly caressed and cuddled them and now they’re mind-blowing.

You would think I had never seen a plant before in my life the way I reacted to this garden. Right outside our room there were some screamy parrots that came out of their enclosure during the day to sit in the vines and shriek violently at the guests. One was a scarlet macaw. He was extra-screamy.

And there was one tree on the far edge of the property with the most interesting pattern in its bark. I felt like I was in a werewolf movie.

And here are the closeups I took of specific plants. Fun tidbit: while taking some of these photos, The Moomins had to protect me from getting attacked by an ornery goose that lives near a small koi pond on the property. I guess I got too close to the goose’s woman and he was disgruntled. It was worth almost dying at the hand (wing?) of waterfowl because these plants were something else, I tell ya.

We went out on a tour of the lake itself. I did not know that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, crash-landed in Guatemala and saw the mountain there that inspired him to write the “draw me a sheep” portion of the book. Specifically the elephant in the snake that is mistaken for a hat. <—- That sentence sounds like I had a stroke but if you’ve read the book it makes sense I promise.

Here’s an article about Saint-Exupéry and Guatemala.

https://globalvoices.org/2008/07/11/guatemala-was-antigua-the-inspiration-for-the-little-prince/

There was also a napping volcano. Shhhhh, Volcano, everything is fine. No make ‘splosions.

Aaaaaaaand that’s pretty much the highlights from my trip. However, one of the other people on the trip, Boris (who had THE BEST Russian accent in the world) had a far superior camera and took some unbelievable pictures of birds and other beasties. He was kind enough to share them with me, and now I will share them with you.

Guatemala, Post 5.

Friday, November 17th, 2017

More Antigua! But first, other things.

We drove past a funeral. It was quite sad. A police officer had been killed. I love how the whole neighborhood showed up and was walking with the family to show support. There was also a band playing mournful walking music and I think we as a nation need to get on that.

I saw a fountain and I liked how they planted flowers birds-of-paradise flowers the fountain. Plus there was a pigeon and I am on Team Pigeon 4 Lyfe. Extremely pro-pigeon. Not ashamed of it.

Okay, so Antigua. The buildings are very short and the roads are extremely wide because if an earthquake destroys a building and it pitches forward it doesn’t knock down the building on the opposite side.

There is a former nunnery in Antigua, Convent of las Capuchinas. It cost a lot of money to become a nun and that, combined with the constant battery of earthquakes, caused the nunnery to be shut down.

The grout that holds those brick walls together was a mixture of sand, gravel and egg whites. The city apparently ran out of eggs during the construction of this building.

The wine cellar for holy ceremonial wines was build like a doughnut with a big column in the middle which is how it survived all the earthquakes. It has great acoustics so the nuns used to go down there and sing and maybe sample the wines.

And there are gardens which are beautiful. It’s not too hard to have a gorgeous garden in Antigua, I saw many of them.

As we walked along the street during the sunset on the last night we found a rooftop bar in an old mansion-type home. The fancy older buildings reminded me of Spain. They tended to have huge scary exterior walls:

And gorgeous compound-like interiors with gardens. This was no exception.

When we went up to the roof you could really appreciate how the city is nestled in between the mountains.

• | • | • | INTERMISSION | • | • | •

Dia de los Muertos-type dolls! Same store as the decorated antlered skulls. I showed restraint and did not buy them.

• | • | • | INTERMISSION OVER | • | • | •

That’s all my photos on Antigua. I only have four photos for the town of Panajachel, a town on the edge of Lake Atitlan (more about Lake Atitlan in a bit) so let’s go through those.

CHARCH! In Panajachel we visited the church. I liked the architectural style

The inside of the church looked like and upside-down boat.

And there was a nice carved monster holding up the display board in the back.

Here was the biggest surprise for me in Panajachel. Stay with me here: There is a semi-famous artist from Vienna Austria named Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928 – 2000). His artwork is extremely distinctive. It’s difficult to mistake it for someone else’s work. Here are some examples.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see a rather large mural featuring some of Hundertwasser’s work in this small village in Guatemala.

Whattup, Hundy? How you doin’?

Okay, coming up next: Lake Atitlan. Get ready for the most insane plants you have ever seen.