Keiki squats down to look at the fish in the polar bear enclosure at the Vienna Tiergarten.

The Schoenbrunn should definitely make the top ten of every visitor attraction list of Vienna, if not the top three. It’s the gigantic former summer palace of the Hapsburgs, and the grounds alone merit at least a half-day stroll to explore fully. There are gardens, fountains, hidden playgrounds, an enormous glasshouse full of palm trees, and even a zoo.

Despite having visited the Schoenbrunn grounds many times, I’d never been to the zoo, which is allegedly the oldest in the Western world (founded in 1752). Now, with two small children, one of whom is animal-obsessed, I had good reason to go. The children and I set out early one morning to travel via the Viennese underground to the palace.

Humuhumu was keen to learn how to navigate the transport system. She got very good at spotting the way to the correct train lines, and proudly announced when the next train would be arriving after we got to the platforms.

It took us 45 minutes to get from our temporary abode to the Schoenbrunn and, conveniently, it was just about Cake O’clock when we arrived. We detoured around the palace entrance and stopped off at an Aida Konditorei, a chain of inexplicably pink cafés that serve extremely nice cakes, coffees and hot chocolates (apart from the one near the opera house – avoid that one; everyone who works there is sick of tourists and very grumpy).

We walked into the Aida and chorused “Guten Morgen” at the round-faced, unsmiling woman behind the counter. She broke into a beaming grin and showed us to the table next to a tiny play area containing toys and books, which the children pounced upon. (Throughout the trip, I encouraged the children to greet everyone we met in German, to say please and thank you in German, to order their food using the German words and, when I felt confident in my knowledge of the right phrases, I coached them to make requests in German. I was astonished at the abundance of goodwill toward us that this produced.) Humuhumu ordered her hot chocolate and cake in German, and was rewarded with an additional pink meringue, which she received with an unprompted “Danke schoen”. When we left, Keiki crowing “Wiedersehen” over my shoulder with his dimpliest smile, the server came out from round the counter and gave each of the children an extra biscuit, which, to be honest, they didn’t really need after all that sugar!

Full of energy, we bounded into the grounds of the Schoenbrunn and raced around whilst waiting for the grandparents to join us at the entrance to the Tiergarten (Zoo). As vast as the Schoenbrunn grounds are, they are not big enough to house a comprehensive collection of the world’s animals, so cleverly the Tiergarten is focused on a limited number of species and provided them with luxurious accommodation.

Keiki and Humuhumu loved the place, particularly Keiki. Once he spotted the meerkat enclosure, we couldn’t get him to finish his lunch. Neither could we readily tear him away from the penguins. In fact, Granddad had a bit of a job keeping Keiki from clambering into their pond to join them. We communed with the seals. We watched a polar bear chewing meditatively on a traffic cone. And, of course, Humuhumu found a climbing wall and had to try everything.

It was a wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon, and we will certainly return to the Tiergarten on our next trip to Vienna.

Further photos beneath the cut.
+++ )
Our day of brilliant weather in Vienna happened on the Tuesday, which was nice as it was the one day that the bloke had off from the conference. We took advantage of it to go on a boat ride down the Danube. Granny, Humuhumu and I had done this together a couple of years before, but the others had never been before. Keiki loved it. He sat upright and alert on my lap for two straight hours, watching and commenting on everything and occasionally bursting into song.

Most of these photos were either taken by the bloke or Humuhumu.

[I had meant to add more commentary but this entry has been sitting half-finished in my documents for weeks so I figured it was best to just post it before it got any more out of date.]

[Me smiling at the camera, with Keiki on my lap, riding at the front of the boat down the Danube. Photo taken by the bloke.]

+11 )

On disembarking from the boat, we discovered that one of the city’s fountains had been turned on in honour of the nice weather.

[Humuhumu in her green Kenyan dress, shrieking as she runs through the fountain.]

+2 )
Since I knew we were going to lean heavily on the grandparents for child care on Wednesday and Thursday, I used Tuesday to take the children out as much as possible. (As it turned out, I overdid it a little, both for them and myself, as I was shattered during the evening conference session.) In the morning, we explored the many playgrounds in the enormous Prater Park near our accommodation. We sampled no less than four different ones. Our favourite was the last, as it featured a generous sand pit. In the afternoon, we took the tram to the Belvedere, the mansions-turned-museums with formal gardens that we stayed over the road from the last time we were in Vienna.

Humuhumu & Gryphon 1
Humuhumu in front of one of the many gryphons guarding the formal gardens.

+14 photos )

We walked up to Karlsplatz and the U-bahn in the late afternoon sunshine. For the first time since we'd left the house in the morning, Humuhumu asked for a pick-up, and as she lay her head on my shoulder I suddenly realised that she'd walked (or run) at least five kilometres that day. Not bad going for three-year-old legs. And we'd even forgotten to celebrate Cake O'Clock. We compensated by having Chocolate O'Clock when we got home, with Manner wafers and Mozart balls.
We spent most of yesterday getting here, and our reward today was the most glorious sunny weather. So we went to the Schoenbrunn, the opulent summer palace of the Hapsburgs and a regular destination for us on trips to Vienna. Still never actually been inside the main building, because when I was younger I wasn't interested, and now because tiny children + priceless furniture & artworks == bad mixture.

It's totally worth the trip for the gardens, though. Also, the cake. My Austrian colleague, bless him, e-mailed me a pictoral guide to his favourite cakes before I left, giving us whole new avenues to explore in this land of magnificent pastries. Today, we had our first encounter with Kardinalschnitte and I'm 100% certain it will not be the last.

Schoenbrunn: running outside
Humuhumu, clutching her green jelly baby, running along the pavement toward the front gates of the palace.

+15 photos & more words )

The EGU conference begins in earnest tomorrow, so we may not get to do a lot of sightseeing again until Friday. I may not be posting much between now and then. Although I may do a daily cake update as I make my way through my colleague's list. Because CAKE.

[Oh, you know, just some Alps in the background.]

The official opening of the 38th Austrian Space Summer School began with the ringing of an enormous cowbell at the Schoolhouse at 8:30 AM. The clanging was followed by a number of lectures, beginning with a broad overview by the head of the German space agency (DLR) and proceeding with ever-increasing specificity through a range of geophysical topics. It ended with the students finally being taken off tenterhooks when the composition of their four teams were announced and their dedicated tutors (one Science, one Engineering) assigned.

We trekked up the hill back to the hotel for drinks and dinner, which were followed by yet another lecture. Despite the deluge of information, the students are still all keyed up. Everyone of the teams is downstairs in the hotel bar (it is now 11 PM), forming working groups and discussing potential mission parameters.

Official language of the School: B.E. (Broken English)
Best lecture of the day: "Terrestrial and planetary tectonics". And I'm not just saying that because he talked about Hawai'i a lot.
Best interruption of the day: A mobile phone ringing persistently. This doesn't sound that great until you know that it turned out to be the speaker's. The director of planetary science at the DLR had to answer call from ESA in the middle of his own lecture.
(Probable) Fact of the Day: Erwin Schrödinger is buried in the graveyard of this village. I shall at some point make a little trip to his grave, so that I can collapse the wave function of my knowledge of its existence through observation of it myself.
Quote of the Day: "In space missions, it is not that failure is not an option. Failure is the default mode. You have to work extremely hard not to fail." -- spacecraft engineer

I'm in my hotel room now with my feet up, exercising the principle of Conservation of Spoons, because I know that my expertise, while not immediately required, will certainly be in demand well before the end of the next nine days.
nanila: YAY (me: abby)
( Jul. 14th, 2014 03:40 pm)
I have been in three countries and multiple forms of transport today.

Countries: UK, Germany, Austria (where I am now)
Forms of transport, in order of use:
  • Taxi (30 minutes late + section of motorway shut == overly exciting journey at 4:30 AM)
  • Plane (jet)
  • Terminal shuttlebus
  • Plane (twin prop)
  • Bus
  • Train
  • Taxi

Twelve hours later, I'm sitting in a rather nice hotel in a small, picturesque village in the Tyrol. It was bright and sunny when I arrived and now the temperature has dropped 10 degrees and it's pissing it down. I am shattered, and I have to go to a meeting at 6 PM. Tomorrow, the 10-day Alpbach Space Summer School that I've come here to help with as an engineering tutor begins.

In conclusion, here is a picture of me and Beakle Bear (aka Humuhumu), because I miss her.

I visited the Zentralfriedhof last year, but never got round to uploading the photos. The Zentralfriedhof is Vienna's cemetery, and its 3 million inhabitants make the vast grounds more populous than the city it serves. Today, May Day, is a public holiday in Austria and so there were many visitors, freshening up the family plots and laying flowers everywhere.

Humuhumu was just five months old during our last visit, and I carried her around the cemetery in her sling. I fed her near the Sisters' graves (I like to think they would not have minded) and then she went to sleep. This time we went with Granny and the pushchair. Humuhumu was awake throughout until we got back on the 71 tram to take us home.

The church dominates the grounds, its oxidized copper dome visible from just about everywhere. It would take hours simply to walk all the paths, let alone explore the graves, so even after two visits I've only seen a fraction of what is here.

Dr. Karl Lueger-Gedächtniskirche

Mausoleums, headstones and cenotaphs - oh my )

This one was with the upmarket lot, but was unusually unkempt. Outside the cut because I absolutely loved how this came out in black and white.
nanila: wrong side of the mirror (me: wrong side of the mirror)
( Apr. 18th, 2013 09:07 pm)
Last week when we were in Vienna, Humuhumu and I decided to do a spot of flânage. We hopped on the #2 tram from Volkstheater and headed out of the centre of the city. The tram took us past an oddly-shaped mirrored building, below which I’d taken the photo of the dense graffiti by the Danube canal that features in the community icon. I made a mental note of the stop and when we turned around, disembarked there to visit the spot.

Then I remembered that the KunstHausWien was within walking distance and that my cousin had told me of an exhibition of New Yorker Saul Leiter’s photography and painting there. Humuhumu and I found our way to it by dint of my memory and helpful signage. She fell asleep halfway around the exhibit, which allowed me to sit and watch a little of his video biography. I caught the bit where he was talking about why he loved street photography. Here is what he said (may not be verbatim, but is close):

“I like walking, not go anywhere in particular, just to walk. The French have a word for it. I think it’s flâneur or flânage or something like that.”

I thought it was a strange and lovely coincidence.

[Image of a bald baby in a purple snowsuit on her mother's lap, riding the #2 tram in Vienna.]

Public transport methods bagged )

X-posted to [community profile] flaneurs on Dreamwidth; my apologies to those for whom this is showing up twice.
We have returned from Vienna intact, if exhausted. Humuhumu has now been on an airplane four times. She was completely unfazed by the flights, even though she was both teething and recovering from a cold when we left.

Since we couldn't fly directly from Birmingham to Vienna, she also has experience of three European airports. Yes, we've just returned from one of the most beautiful, well-preserved and welcoming centres of culture in the northern hemisphere and the first thing I'm going to tell you about is airports. Maybe it's because we actually saw a large group of Germans in inexplicable yellow polo shirts while in Frankfurt airport.*

I have always been one to ascribe to Douglas Adams' stand that all airports are basically the same: soulless and depressing, with signs that serve to direct you exactly where you don't want to go when you only have two minutes left before the gate for your flight is closed. However, this journey showed me that we were wrong, or at least that the Austrians and the Germans read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and took the first chapter seriously enough to have revised their airports. The Belgians, on the other hand, need to be sent a highlighted copy with a Post-It note stuck on the front featuring a large sad face drawn in red felt-tip pen.

Without further ado, here are my brief reviews of said airports.
  1. Frankfurt Flughafen: We had to stay here for three hours. It is nicely laid out, clean and well lit, with clear signage and immigration officers who are tolerant of unhappy babies who don't understand that waiting in queues is something that simply has to be done sometimes. The baby changing rooms (babyraums) were plentiful, accessible to anyone (i.e. not in in the ladies' only) with paper provided for changing tables. They even had a chair in which one could sit and comfortably breast or bottle feed a baby. The terminals had free lounges with comfortable chairs and free wi-fi. It was all terribly civilised.

  2. Vienna Flughafen: This is the winner by a country mile. In addition to Frankfurt's charms, including babyraums, the Austrians have gone one better than the Germans and provided comfortable sofa-style seating at the gates (you can actually lie down if you want to), cubicle tables with power points and free wi-fi for those who wish to work and safe padded play areas for infants and toddlers. Also, some areas had a large projector screen with an Xbox-360 style interactive game on it for children. The airline staff took us through priority check-in and boarding, even though we were mere economy-class passengers. The security staff whisked us through a special queue for people with children. The only way it could possibly have been more pleasant is if someone brought you your coffee and cake instead of having to walk to the cafe to buy them. I was almost as sad to leave the airport as I usually am to leave Vienna anyway.

  3. Brussels Aéroport: After being uplifted by the previous two, Brussels airport brought us back down with an unceremonious thud. If your connecting flight is less than an hour after your previously flight has landed, you will have to spend the whole time running from one dismal situation to another. The immigration staff ignored the sobbing baby and carried on serving people at a stubbornly slow pace. The security staff were unhelpful. The already-inadequate seating at the gates was occupied by a lot of people who seemed to think their bags also needed a seat. I left thinking that Brussels was a particularly horrible airport, but then I remembered that that is what airports are normally like.

The moral of this story is that if you ever have to have a layover in Europe, try to make sure it's either in Germany or Austria.

* See: The opening chapter of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Go behind the cut to take a tour of the Benedictine monastery in Melk, Austria, where there is enough gold leaf to gild an entire herd of elephants. Photos ensmallened for slow connections. All can be clicked to view larger sizes.

Tour Stift Melk )