Saturday, July 25, 2015

Haus des Meeres, Aquarium

Rose Lemonade, ever heard of it or had it? It is lovely, refreshing and pretty all at the same time. This is a cool courtyard to sit in and avoid the heat.

We made it! To Haus des Meeres, Aqua Terra Zoo, finally. We've been meaning to go since we arrived in Vienna but the elevator for the flat has broken down four times in those weeks. We are five long flights up so it has been quite inconvenient! 

Anyway, back to the Haus, it’s eleven floors in a former flak tower from the war. There are six towers existing in Vienna, one houses the Haus des Meeres, one is an art gallery and as far as I can tell the others are empty.  Plans to disassemble them failed because there were too many buildings built up around them. Blowing them up would cause damage, the walls are so very thick that taking them down with a bulldozer or something wouldn’t work either, so they left them. My first post on Vienna shows the one we see out one side of the flat.

Here's the website for the aquarium, click on images for it to get more pictures. 

Starfish just hangin'
There is only one elevator from entryway to the eighth floor, then another for nine to eleven, that elevator has a window in it where you can see into a fish tank! There are two small restaurants, one mid floors, one on the top with magnificent 360 degree views of Vienna. Staff must spend half their day on that first elevator and it does take some time to reach each floor, there are stairs but Bruce had his wheels and many families had strollers. There is a lab for the breeding program and meeting rooms where they have classes for children. 

Giant lobster I think
Aside, the Royal BC Museum in Victoria,  had been housed in the basement of the House of Parliament there. A dark and dreary place we visited as children and didn’t like. They built a brand new one and it opened with great fanfare. It is a beautiful building and the displays are interactive with the audience. My mom signed us up for children’s classes and I remember really enjoying them, certainly we learned about many things not taught in regular school. If you are in Victoria, I’d advise taking a tour, it’s not like any stuffy museum you’ve ever seen before.

The animals and fish - we liked the little monkeys best and they sure are not shy, one climbed onto the arm of Bruce’s chair and I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture, but they will walk right in front of you. Curious little things, investigated the bottom of a baby carriage or pretty much anything those humans bring in. 

Old diving gear, heavy I expect!
There are snakes, no thanks, insects, no thanks, but yes to turtles, sharks, hammerhead sharks were interesting for us to see, their eyes are at each end of the peen. Multiple types of fish and corals, well, I won’t continue with the animal species description, too numerous but see the above website link for more information. It was a lovely visit and well worth seeing, especially those monkeys!

The round glassware has an ant farm running through it!

That was our visit, enjoyed it thoroughly!

Cheers, Bx2 & Lexi Cat

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Visit to Piber Stud Farm and the City of Graz

We saw the the Spanish Riding School Lippizaner Stallion show, in Vienna a few years back and were extremely impressed! We found out the Stud Farm is fairly close to Vienna and decided to visit to see the foals, mares and stallions who have worked the show, now used as stud. Graz is second largest city to Vienna so stayed there and trained to Koeflach (umlaut over the o), taxied to the farm.

The two and a half hour train trip to Graz was beautiful! Through mountains and valleys, sunflower fields and small villages. Majestic rock formations and views of valleys.

I had read somewhere sit left on the way and right on the way back and it was true. There were homes made of stone, all the way to the roof with small windows in a row across them, two or three stories high. They were numbered and mostly unoccupied, I think they may have been housing for when the railroad was built.

It was a scenic ride both ways and we both really enjoyed it.

A castle!
Graz train station and the lift to take us to where we are to meet our driver is out of commission. Seem to be having trouble with lifts these days, (the one at the flat in Vienna broke down three times in the last week, major problem, hopefully now fixed for good) so Bruce goes in the opposite direction to the one that works and comes out probably about a kilometre from the main entrance. Well what choice do we have really? I walk back to the main station and summon the driver with van to pick us up. I’m sorry, but he’s not the brightest marble in the bag, but long story short and we find Bruce after circling the block.

Restorative time in the room which is roomy, light, with lovely rugs, planned bonus, air-conditioning. Then off to do a small shop and dinner at where you can order to your liking of salad, pizza, spaetsle/pasta, burger or breakfast by marking what ingredients you want added. Cheap but pretty good, more of a student hangout I think, but we’ve done well with them in other cities. They served a glass of tap water with the wine,  as they typically do with coffee, never had that before but it was welcome.

Outside wall of hotel.
Detail, they are scenes of farming activities

In both cities of Vienna and Graz and I expect the rest of Austria they are very proud of their tap water. It comes from the mountains and is very pure. As you know, I like sparkly water but did drink tap while in Cornwall last year so may revert again. Rather silly really, to haul home, recycle bottles just for a bit of sparkle which I can still order in a restaurant.

Partial day of touring around neighbourhoods, in Graz, getting a bit lost but able to recover by asking folk. People are kind here, if they don’t know they’ll hail someone going by to ask. We didn’t go to the tourist area, just wanted to see where people live. Encountered a couple of large parks and missed the Schloss park which has a castle on top of the hill.

Went to the farmer’s market first thing which is just around the block from the hotel and it was typical, lovely and quite large. Saw bunches of baby carrots I haven’t seen since we picked our own on the farm and really wished I could have bought and cooked up, a forgotten memory. Lots of flowers including sunflowers from those fields we passed. I had an early lunch/breakfast at a fish stall. Their potato salad was a delight, used a flavoured vinegar, a bit like German but more vinegar, read swimming in it, with chives and onions. Bruce bought apple juice in a 100 ml bottle for 1.80 Euro and it’s home made I think and tastes almost as good as wine.

Hot day but there was a breeze so if you could catch it made the day bearable. So I walked my little legs off, Bruce rolled along and would scout ahead to help determine where we were or not supposed to be. So we’ve seen some of Graz but not it’s tourist highlights, fine by me.

Dinner was at a Greek restaurant called Athen across the road from the hotel.  You can smoke inside there, still amazes me and feels weird besides. Food was done expertly, lamb chops and large shrimps, it’s been a long while since we’ve had Greek food so was a treat. Out of the tourist area it seemed to be a locals bar, people were playing cards in the back room, a TV was on for news, I would guess following what’s happening there now.

On to the reason for our visit to the area, the Piber Stud farm is where they birth, grow, train the horses. It is a business operation really that has gone on for hundreds of years. That doesn’t take away from the cuteness of the foals for us though. It is  a real measure of training of the horse and rider. The horse gets years of careful stewardship, the rider less so.

Foals are born brown, black, grey but change colour to white in about ten years, it takes that long. The white is astounding and another reason they are special. Here is a website to explain the history etc. and just go with what we saw.

We arrived during the rest time for the horses, probably from tourists who are snapping pictures of them, they rest from noon to 13:00 so we lunched at the Cafe Caballero on site. I had pumpkin oil on my salad, explanation in a bit.

Once rest time was over we got audio equipment and a map, the tour was in German and there were quite a few people on it so it was nice to wander ourselves. We loosely followed the tour and went through the various barns housing various aged stallions, grouped by age. One wasn’t too happy and he kept snorting and banging around his stall but the rest were pretty placid. They have a majesty and dignified aura about them.

Then we saw the mares and foals in a large loose paddock. Being “children” they chased, nipped and generally romped along with their mothers like kids do, a beautiful sight.

I took many, many more pictures of horses as you can imagine. Okay one more.

In pasture

Spanish Riding School coats

The acreage has a castle which is now used for events and office space, a 950 year old church, a carriage museum, blacksmith barn, and an interactive children’s learning area where they can be taught how to mount a horse or make horseshoes and such, didn’t see it. The visit was worth every bit of effort it took to get there!

Horse statues made from horseshoes

Kuerbis (umlaut over the u) or pumpkin is a very large crop in Styria, Austria where Piber, Koeflach and Graz are located. Oil is large for salads which tasted nutty and very good, they put seeds into everything, and they are tasty! In North America we tend to use pumpkin for Halloween as decoration and discard. Here it is like every other vegetable and used for soups, creams, added to almost anything. It’s a bigger deal than spargel/asparagus in Germany I think.

Back again to the Greek place in Graz and the entire first floor is filled with kids, balloons, parents, grandparents and strollers. How they fit everyone in was amazing but they did and noise level was at the top. Luckily the smoking allowed tables were quite a far way away from the party so we could still enjoy a meal. They served shots of Ouzo to everyone, which for me was welcomed, liquorice in flavour and not a drink I buy so it was a treat, especially in small quantity. We were trying to figure out when we’d last had Greek food and it has to be about four years now. No wonder we went back for a second night. Plus we’d been in Piber all day for three hours of walking and an hour each way by train so were tired, this place is right across the street from the hotel so it has the triple whammy of being close, tasty and smoking inside since they don’t have a patio.

On the train going by one of the many villages and I saw a naked child no tan lines just enjoying running around in the sun. Did I mention the backyard swimming pools so many homes have, it seemed every second or third house had one.

Ride home to Vienna was good, extremely hot day but the train was air conditioned so the two and a half hour ride was comfortable. We were on a train headed to Prague so three languages were spoken, written. We’ve been to Prague and learning that language is or would be almost as bad as an Oriental language I think. Don’t remember having any problem in Prague, most spoke English, or maybe my pantomiming worked once again.

“Home” now in Vienna to a thankfully cool flat, it is seriously HOT today, just about melted into a puddle on the brief wait for the cab driver at the train station.

Cheers, Bev, Bruce and Lexi Cat

Sunday, July 5, 2015

First Days in Vienna

Journey to Vienna, called Wien here. Train to Frankfurt, overnight at an Airport hotel. Spent the evening in the Beer Garden, or Biergarten eating dinner and drinking wine. Our room didn’t allow smoking in it so we stayed outside. Briefly met a couple from San Francisco who’s flight connection didn’t happen so they were put up there. Her accent was more mid-west we guessed because it was quite pronounced. Next morning up and “at em” to the Airport where they had a problem with the batteries being plugged in on Bruce’s chair so it took a while. They didn’t charge for Lexi which is unusual, probably forgot due to the chair issue. Anyway, all got sorted in plenty of time for the flight. De-planing and having them bring a wheelchair to the gate means we are last off so we are not in the way of more ambulatory people. Collect bags and Bruce’s chair and look for the special cab driver we’d hired to accommodate the chair. Found him, on to the flat. 

Another thing, same airport, different policies every time it seems, I won’t go into detail here but it is sometimes confusing.  But some of what happens is not sensible, or sometimes even more sensible. Go figure is all I will say on the non-subject. Just another rant.

I texted our host, Peter, and he was at the flat to meet us. Now he has SuperHost status from AirBnB and deserves it in our opinion, as does Pepe in Sevilla. He left us a fridge full of food, shopped for coffee and sparkling water after he heard I liked it. Gave a thorough run through of the flat which has the most amazing views of Vienna’s buildings. 

Liked the shadow made from the statue in the cupola 

The flat has air conditioning, a major reason for renting it because Bruce wilts in the heat and it's hot! The building  is old, we're on the top floor and the walls are a bit strange, covered with tacked white board, but nice and bright, two floors, will do us fine for the next two months. Shops are close by as is a light rail system. 

Lexi pulled her hiding trick and took all three of us to find her behind a kitchen cabinet. Travel weariness gets to us all sometimes like the time in Paris, but this was quite an easy trip really.

Will be out exploring tomorrow after a restful night I hope.

Another building although they look and are the same, cathedral to the left

Restful night, out doing our usual circling of the neighbourhood so we don’t get lost. Had lunch at a burger joint and it was good. Did a shop at a Spar grocers we found. Came back to Bruce having trouble getting up the entryway to the flat so contacted our host to tell him - make it a priority please - a ramp is needed!

View between previous pictures, don't have a wide lens on the camera

Hazy view but you can see what we look out on

Peter said all buildings in Vienna have to be wheelchair accessible by January 2016 by law so he and a friend will hopefully design something for market. A good idea since a moveable one will be needed. and if successful could go to other cities also. Handicapped access isn’t easy in Europe with the old buildings. We found one! sturdy rubber, small, but large enough and not heavy, perfect! Bruce felt quite trapped in the building not knowing if he could get back in again. He can still walk some but really to get out and about he needs the chair. We took our host to lunch at a local place he suggested in a large garden area to say thanks. 

Did another shop at a different Spar, larger, that we had spotted yesterday on our wanders. We had read about an aquarium in Vienna and wanted to check it out. Built in an old war bunker, we look out one side of the building at this enormous round concrete building which is frankly very ugly and found out it is the aquarium, right close by! We’ll be going there soon.

The transit system here looks good and one runs by our door regularly, mind, not all have handicapped access but some do so we’ll do the transit monthly ticket thing and have greater access to further points in the city. It’s just too big to walk or roll everywhere. Our host is living a bit outside the city, while we occupy his flat, in the wine producing area and has offered to show us around when we are ready. 

About our host Peter, he has had many lives, travelled widely and had many different careers. It’s quite amazing what he told us and I won’t go into too much detail here but working in multi-national finance, a pilot, living on the street, a trained artist focusing on sculpture, and living in so many different countries. He was a nomad before many of the blogger’s we’ve met were, and didn’t blog about it, before blogging became a medium, and he’s not that old! Bruce asked him if he would consider writing a book because he certainly was and still has a life that is not a conventional of work 9-5, go home and veg out. It does go a way to explain this eclectic flat interior with it’s fabulous view.

He’s had a Nobel prize winner stay in the flat, forget whom. Has also had a couple of Google programmers stay and they drank a lot of champagne and ate pizza basically, didn’t go out at all. The flat view has been used in movie scenes but when it isn’t being used for such illustrious functions, like us living here, Peter does. It is full of his possessions which he marks by a red bit of tape to say “hands off”, there is a fair bit of red tape around…

I re-arranged the kitchen cupboards because Peter is quite a tall man and he’d put everything where I couldn’t reach. Luckily we have a ladder in the flat so it wasn’t a problem. 

A neighbouring area is called Spittelberg and it is full of antique shops and funky little shops. Good restaurant called Boheme, named after the opera in a small lane off a main street. There was a Saturday market and an organic food market there too. Small parks along those lanes provide shade which is needed right now with temps in the mid-thirties as it seems everywhere. Because this District of Vienna is small we only walk a couple of blocks and we’ve hit another one. We’re in Neubau, 7th District, of 23 total, read about it here

Second full day here and I’m happy with the choice!

Cheers, Bx2 and Lexi Cat