Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Orientation – Part Two (19.09.2005 – 24.09.2005)

Schloss Schonbrunn

On Monday (19.09.2005), we toured Schloss Schonbrunn, which was the summer home of the Habsburgs. It is an enormous place, and very overwhelming because there is so much to see. Schonbrunn was originally a hunting lodge until it was given to Empress Maria Theresia by her father. Maria Theresia remodeled the entire palace and the grounds extensively, and the palace and grounds still look the same as they did during her time. We took a two-hour tour of the house, and I was amazed by how ornate all of the furnishings are. As a side note, the palace has an interesting heating system. Each room has an elaborate porcelain furnace in one corner. These furnaces are lit from passages that are built inside the walls of the rooms, so that the smoke and dust from the furnaces does not go into the living spaces of the palace. Another interesting fact that I learned was that Empress Maria Theresia had sixteen children (and 11 of them survived to adulthood), which is an amazing accomplishment considering that she was alive during the 1700s.

Ottakringer Brewery

On Tuesday (20.09.2005), we went to the Ottakringer Brewery in Vienna. Ottakringer is a very popular beer in Vienna, probably because it is brewed right here in town and it is cheap. Now, most of you know that I don’t like to drink beer. And after visiting the brewery, I can still say that I don’t like to drink beer. However, I did enjoy the tour of the brewery. Our tour guide had never given a tour of the brewery in English (he normally gives the tours in German), but he did very well. The picture below shows the bottling room at the brewery. If you look to the right of the Inspektions-maschine, you can see a blurry green line of beer bottles as they whiz by on the bottling line.

United Nations Office

On Thursday (22.09.2005), we visited the United Nations Office at the Vienna International Center. The UNO in Vienna is the third headquarters for the UN (behind the NYC office and the Geneva office). It was established on 01.01.1980 (the day before I was born!) and is the headquarters for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. During our visit, we watched a video on the UN as a whole, and had a lecture on the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, which is an organization devoted to helping to bring economic development to third world countries. The picture below shows Lara and I with some of our friends (from left to right: me, Stefan, Lara, Alberto, Eugeno, Roser) in front of the United Nations Office.

Stift Melk and the Nastl Wiengut, Keller, und Heuriger

Saturday (24.09.2005) was a busy day! First, we went to the town of Melk and visited the Stift Melk (Melk Abbey). Before we toured the abbey, we were able to go into the gardens for about 45 minutes. The gardens were gorgeous, and the weather was perfect as well! We wandered about, and followed a little map that we picked up from the entrance to the gardens. Two of my favorite places were the Pavilion and the historical water basin. The pavilion was built in the 1700s for the monks’ recreation and it is filled with amazing frescoes. (By the way, I didn’t know the difference between a fresco and a mural, so I found a great website that explained it. Go to Fresco Techniques and Materials and you can find out the difference too!) The historical water basin is an interesting place because of the sculpture in the center of it. The sculpture tells the story of Jesus walking on the water towards his disciples, and Peter getting out of the boat to meet him. As Peter begins to walk on the water, his fear overcomes him, and he starts to sink, and Jesus reaches out and saves him, saying “Have faith, be not afraid!” After we finished walking through the gardens, we took a guided tour of the abbey museum. It was beautiful! The museum is set up in the Imperial Wing of the abbey, where Maria Theresia and her entourage stayed when they were traveling to the western part of Austria. The Imperial Wing has several hundred rooms, and it always had to be prepared for Maria Theresia, in case she needed to stay there. And with all of this preparation, she only stayed at the abbey three times during her lifetime. One other interesting fact is that the Austrian people used ‘reusable’ coffins in the 18th century in order to save money. Instead of burying a person in a normal coffin, they would put them in a coffin with a trap door on the bottom for the funeral. After the coffin was lowered into the grave, the gravedigger would pull on a latch, and the bottom of the coffin would open, allowing the body to fall into the grave. The coffin would then be pulled back out of the grave to be used again for someone else.

In the afternoon, we visited the Nastl Weingut, Keller, und Heuriger (Nastl Vineyard, Cellar, and New Wine Tavern). A Heuriger is a wine tavern that sells ‘new wine’, that is, wine that is from the current year’s vintage. These places are common in Austria, and the wine is very good and relatively cheap. Gunter and Renate Nastl own the winery, and Renate took us on a tour of the vineyards. She also showed us the wine cellar, which is very modern. The Nastls produce about 40,000 bottles of wine a year, and their family has been operating the winery since 1659. The picture below is of Lara and me with Renate Nastl. If you would like to know more about their winery, you can go to

Renate told us an interesting story as we were touring the wine cellar. We walked past some wooden barrels, and she told us that this is where they ferment the red wine. The first three barrels in the foreground of the picture are for each of her three children. Red wine was put in a barrel for each child in the year that they were born, and they will get it when they are grown. That’s a pretty nice inheritance!

After the tour of the vineyards and the wine cellar, we had a wine-tasting in the Heuriger. The Nastls make some very nice wine, and I bought two bottles of their Sauvignon Blanc 2004 before we left.

The Park at Schloss Schonbrunn

On Sunday (25.09.2005), we went back to Schonbrunn to visit the gardens. It was well worth the visit! It is difficult for me to find the words to describe how massive the gardens are. Just to give you an idea, my guidebook said that 20 hectares of grass have to be mowed 21 times a year. Since one hectare is about 2.5 acres, that’s equivalent to almost 50 acres of grass. And that doesn’t include all of the trees, bushes, and flowers in the park that need to be cared for. Needless to say, it is a massive undertaking for the gardening staff at Schonbrunn, and there is always something that needs to be done in the gardens. The picture below shows a rolling scaffolding that is used to trim the trees in the park.

Lara and I climbed to the Gloriette, which is on a hill overlooking the back side of Schloss Schonbrunn. We could see the entire city of Vienna from there, and it was amazing. Even though we have been to Schonbrunn twice, we have only seen about half of the exhibits on the estate. I know that I will have to go back at least one more time to see the Palm House and Sundial House, the oldest zoo in Europe, the Roman Ruins, the Court Bakery (where I can get a recipe for apple strudel – yum!), the Carriage Museum, the Small Gloriette, the Maze, the Schone Brunnen, the Obelisk Fountain, and the Japanese Garden. Look for more info on these places in an upcoming post!

Well, that concludes my travels during orientation. Tomorrow, I leave for a two day trip to a mountain hut in the Alps, and then it’s on to Budapest for two days! Look for updates to my photo album in the next few days here.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Orientation – Part One (12.09.2005 – 18.09.2005)

We have been participating in our Orientation program and German class for the past two weeks, so I am sorry that I have not been able to post any blog entries for a while. Our orientation program was not a school orientation (like the one at NC State), but rather a cultural orientation program. This meant that we went on different trips in Vienna and Austria to learn more about the area that we are living in for the semester. It was a lot of fun, and I learned quite a bit about life in Austria. We also had our German class for the past two weeks, so I have learned to speak enough German to get by with. I also signed up to have a German Language buddy, so she will help me with my German, and I will help her with her English. I am starting to enjoy living in Vienna even more, now that I know more about how and why the city has evolved to its current state.

And now, on to the travel portion of the blog post…

Schloss Belvedere and the “New Austria” Exhibition

On Thursday (15.09.2005), we attended a lecture on the Austrian Political System at school. It was a very interesting lecture, and I was glad we were able to attend, since elections will be held in Vienna this fall. An interesting fact that I learned is that there are over 600 political parties in Austria (and no, the 600 is not a typo). Apparently, it is very easy to form a political party in Austria (you only need one person to do it), so whenever someone has an idea or reform that they want to promote, they just form a new political party. However, out of the 600, only 4-5 parties are of national political relevance – the rest are related to regional or city politics.

After the lecture, we took the tram through town to Schloss Belvedere. Schloss Belvedere is a palace that now houses the Osterreichische Galerie (Austrian Gallery) and it hosts different exhibitions throughout the year. We went to the “New Austria” exhibition, which shows the history of Austria from 1914 (when the Habsburg dynasty ended) up to present day Austria. This exhibition is being held because Austria is currently celebrating their 50th anniversary as the Republic of Austria. The State Treaty of Austria was signed on 15.05.1955, and the last occupying forces exited the country on 25.10.1955. October 26th is National Austria Day, since it was the first day that the country was unoccupied. Since this year is the 50th anniversary of the State Treaty, there are big celebrations happening all over the country and I can’t even imagine what the celebrations on National Austria Day will be like. The New Austria exhibition was very interesting, and I think I will be going back to have another look at it (you can never get the full experience when you are being herded like cattle on a guided tour).

Vienna City Tour

On Friday (16.09.2005), we went on a bus tour of the city of Vienna. It was very interesting, but I would much prefer to get out and walk around at places, as opposed to having a fleeting glance of them as we drive by. We were able to walk around the Hundertwasser-KrawinaHaus, which is an apartment building that Friedensreich Hundertwasser built in the early 1980s. This building is very unique, because Hundertwasser coated the outside with different colored plasters (for each apartment) as well as tiles and bricks. Seeing the Hundertwasser Haus was a great experience for me, because Hundertwasser also designed the power plant that is located near our school. The Fernwarme Wien is a power plant that burns the city’s trash to make electricity. It definitely looks different from our power plants back home, doesn’t it? Something that I have learned in Vienna is that Austria does not use any nuclear power. In the 1970s, the president of Austria commissioned a nuclear power plant to be built in Austria. After it was completed, the Austrian people voted on a referendum on whether to produce nuclear power or not. The president assumed that the people would vote ‘yes’, since the nuclear power plant had already been built. Instead, he was greatly surprised when the Austrian people overwhelmingly voted ‘no’ to the production of nuclear power. Therefore, no nuclear power is produced in Austria.

Graz – the second largest city in Austria

On Saturday (09.17.2005), we took a bus trip to the city of Graz. The weather was cold and rainy that day, but we still had a good trip. We went on a two-hour walking tour of the city, which was very nice. Graz is relatively compact, so we were able to see quite a bit of the city in those two hours. Below, you can see a picture of my friend, Roser, and I dancing as a street musician plays the violin. As you can see, we were having fun despite the weather. While we were on the Graz city tour, our tour guide pointed out the first apartment building in Graz. Apparently, a wealthy banker decided to build an enormous house on the center square of the city. When the house was completed, the banker had run out of money and could not pay all of his debts. So, he gave rooms in the house to the people that he owed money to. And that’s how his house became the first apartment building in Graz.

After we left Graz, we went to the Osterreichisches Freilichtmuseum Stubing bei Graz (Austrian Open-Air Museum at Stubing by Graz). It is a museum that has rural homesteads from all nine provinces in Austria, and some of the buildings date back several hundred years. Our tour guide at the museum said that all of the buildings are original, not reproductions. He said that when the museum curators find a building to add to the collection, they go to the original site and take pictures and draw up plans of the building. Then, they take it apart piece by piece, and number each one as they go. When they get all of the pieces moved back to the museum, they put them back together to reassemble to building – kind of like a gigantic 3-D jigsaw puzzle. The curators of the museum also maintain vegetable and flower gardens and keep farm animals at the museum to make everything as authentic as possible. If you would like to see more about the Osterreicheisches Freilichtmuseum, you can go to

Fest der Freiheit

On Sunday (18.09.2005), Lara and I went walking throughout Vienna with a couple of friends. While we were out walking, we came up a huge festival in front of the Rathaus (City Hall). It was a celebration of Austria’s 50th anniversary of freedom, and it was very interesting. Bands were playing American music (John Phillip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever) and there were American cars from the 1950s. We even saw some people dressed in poodle skirts! As a part of the celebration, the city mayors from London, Moscow, Paris, and Washington, D.C. came up on stage and spoke about what a great country Austria is. It was a unique experience to see so much American culture in the center of Vienna, and it felt a little bit like the Fourth of July!

Well, that is the end of the first part of Orientation. I will be posting the second part very soon!


Monday, September 12, 2005

Il treno è sempre in ritardo. (The train is always late.)

Well, it has been a long week. Lara and I took an overnight train to Florence on Monday night. From Florence, we immediately headed to the Cinque Terre, a series of five towns (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) that are located between Levanto and La Spezia on the northwestern coast of Italy. We stayed for two nights at the Albergo Souvenir in Monterosso, and spent a day and a half exploring the towns. On Tuesday afternoon, we went to the beach and swam in the Mediterranean Sea. It was wonderful! Since it was rainy on Wednesday morning, we took the train to Riomaggiore and worked our way up through the towns until we got back to Monterosso. I was blown away by the panoramic views in all of the towns. It was truly an awe-inspiring site to see the towns perched on the cliffs above the sea and know that they have been there for hundreds of years. We left the Cinque Terre early Thursday morning and headed back to Florence. We found a wonderful hostel, Ostello Archi Rossi, which was situated right in the heart of the old town. It was truly a unique place, with interesting paintings and drawings from travelers all over the walls. On Thursday afternoon, we wandered around Florence, looking at all of the hustle and bustle of the city. We walked to the Duomo, which is the biggest church in Florence. Its dome can be seen from miles around the city. My first impressions of Florence were lots of traffic, people, mopeds, busy streets, and trash. Much different than the Cinque Terre. On Friday, Lara and I went to the Galleria dell Academia to see Michelangelo’s David. It was an amazing sight! The statue was so big in real life, and it is incredible to think that it was carved out of a single piece of marble! After that, we walked back to the hostel during a thunderstorm, and changed into dry shoes before venturing out again. We went to the Ponte Vecchio, which is the oldest bridge in Florence. There are two stories about the Ponte Vecchio that I learned while I was in Florence. When the bridge was first built, it was lined with butcher shops. The city bankers lived in a district near the bridge, and they had to cross it each day to go to work. The bankers did not like the smell of the butcher shops, so they complained to the Medici family (which was the ruling family of Florence at that time). The Medicis kicked the butchers out of their shops, and replaced them with the goldsmiths and diamond-carvers of the city, and their descendants still sell jewelry in the shops to this day. The second story is that the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence to survive during the German bombings in World War II. A German commander couldn’t bear to destroy it; so instead, he blew up the buildings on both sides of the bridge to make it impassible. After visiting the Ponte Vecchio, I went to the Palazzo Pitti, which is the palace that the Medicis lived in during their reign. It was a beautiful place, and it houses six different museums. I visited the Galleria del Costume (Costume Gallery), Galleria Palatina (Palantine Gallery), Appartamenti Reali (Royal Apartments), and Museo degli Argenti (Silverworks Museum). All of these were very impressive, especially the Museo degli Argenti, which houses many of the Medici treasures. I also visited the Museo di Storia della Scienza (Museum of the History of Science). Some of the interesting things that I saw included some rudimentary microscopes and equipment that was used at the beginning of the study of chemistry. I also got to see Galileo’s embalmed middle finger and his first telescopes. I met back up with Lara, and we went to dinner with a couple of girls that we met at our hostel, Vickie and Suzie. They are Australian and they are backpacking across Europe for six weeks. On Saturday, I went to the Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Museum of Precious Stones). I thought this museum would house some more of the Medici treasures (which it did), but they were not what I expected. This museum houses the collection of stone mosaics that were made during the Medici reign. Basically, rich families would commission artists to create beautiful artwork out of different types of marble. This artwork could consist of tabletops, cabinets, door panels, or whatever the family wanted. The artist would create a “draft” design by painting with oil on canvas, and then the design would be created using different colored stones, such as marble, granite, quartz, coral, mother of pearl, just to name a few. It was very intricate and detailed work, and the results are extraordinary. After that, I went to the Cappelle dei Medici (Medici Chapels), which is where the Medici family crypt and the tombs of the Grand Dukes are located. When I walked into the Cappella dei Principi (Princes’ Chapel), I was left speechless. The whole chapel is composed of stone mosaics and the dome is covered with eight Biblical frescoes painted in vibrant colors. The chapel contains the tombs of the six Grand Dukes in the Medici family, and each tomb has the ducal crown on top of it. I have not been able to find the words to describe how I felt when I walked into the chapel. All that I can say is that it was breath-taking and it brought me to tears. I met Lara later that morning, and we went to the Palazzo Vecchio, which is the old palace of Florence. It now houses the town government, including the mayor’s office. We went on the “Secret Routes” tour, which allowed us to go through several hidden passages in the palace—very cool! On Saturday afternoon, I visited the Macchine di Leonardo exhibit, which was an exhibit with models of Leonardo da Vinci’s machines that he invented and recorded in his Codices. It was interesting to see the early beginnings of many machines that our society uses today. Then, Lara and I visited the Uffizi, which houses an enormous collection of art from the Florentine Renaissance period. It was a very impressive gallery, but it was difficult to truly appreciate all of the art in a two-hour period. After the Uffizi, we went back to the hostel, picked up our backpacks, and headed to the train station to wait for our overnight train. We got back to our dorm room around 10 am on Sunday, and we were both very glad to have a day to rest before orientation started. I have uploaded some additional pictures from the trip here. Look in the album titled “Italy.” ~Andria

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I didn’t lose my luggage!

I landed (with all of my belongings—YAY!) in Vienna on September 1. After checking into my dorm, it finally hit me…scheiβe, I’m in Austria!! After several small mishaps (funny now, but not so much when they were happening), I finally started to get settled in. Gerald, my buddy from the WU, took me to dinner at a pub and I had my first Austrian meal—Wiener Schnitzel and German potato salad. Very yummy! On September 2, Lara’s plane arrived, and I took the Underground and CAT train to the airport to meet her. Over the past couple of days, we have been wandering around Vienna. Basically, we picked a different direction each day and started walking to see what we would find. Memorable highlights include:

  • Maria Hilfer Straβe, which is one of the main shopping districts in the city (and relatively close to our dorm) – I will definitely be returning to this area frequently
  • A Viennese wedding on Saturday (we walked up to the church and watched the processional)
  • Wandering around and eating lunch in the Volksgarten with Blue, an Australian that Lara met on her plane
  • Buying stamps that cost €1,25 each (equivalent to about $1.60) to mail postcards
  • Wandering around the Museum District and listening to the street musicians outside the Spanische Hofreitschule
  • Meeting new people in our dorm, including Diana (from Bosnia), Queenie (from Hong Kong), and Kirsten (from Singapore)
  • Trying to learn some German so I don’t continue to look like the tourist that I am

I have uploaded my pictures here. Look in the album titled “First Impressions of Vienna” (it’s the only album up there right now). Feel free to take a look, and let me know what you think. For those of you who know about my internship with Progress Energy this summer, I have been fascinated by the lighting system in Vienna since I arrived, which is why I have included several pictures of the street lights in my photo album. Tomorrow, we head to Florence and the Cinque Terre (that’s in Italy, for those of you who don’t know). I look forward to sharing my adventures with you when I return!