11.26.2005

Roaming Vienna

We (the students here) all know that the countdown has begun and that we will soon return to our “real lives.” First there was the fun travel phase, then school began, and now the countdown. With the exception of a few last travels and of course classes, we all seem to want to spend time around Vienna and with each other. After the Asian dinner, we decided that this group should continue to get gather on a weekly basis. I missed Thanksgiving due to group work. I missed it more than I thought, so I guess that I'll just have to have my own Thanksgiving in January. I did manage to find some dried cranberries, so at least I can put those on my musli!

This week we had an international dessert party. Andria and I took a turtle cheesecake (thanks to Mom and Dad for sending some key ingredients!) and we made s’mores. Of course the s’mores were the big hit! We also had desserts from Portugal, Japan, Italy, and the corner grocery.

This morning, I decided to take a long walk before starting to do my work. I visited the Hundertwasser Haus, which I had seen briefly during the orientation tour in September. Then, I wandered to Grüner Prater, which is a 3-mile long public park. There is a small amusement park, which is of course closed this time of year. The main attraction is Riesenrad, which is a “panoramic,” or as we call it a “Ferris wheel.” This is different, though, because it has trailer-like cars, not just little seats, to give tourists a ride and view of the city.

Enjoy your warm weather when you look at the snow we have here!

p.s. There are Christkindlmarkts everywhere!

11.20.2005

Classes & Christkindl

Contrary to what you might think by looking at all my photos, I do have school work! This weekend in particular, I have two papers and two presentations to finish for the coming week. Ok, it's an unusual week but nevertheless I am not just playing and touring! Actually, the classes are just as much a cultural experience as my travels. I am definitely getting to know more people from more countries. My teams thus far have been great to work with!

Frohe Weihnachten = Good Christmas = Merry Christmas

There is a festive spirit here! Not only are there minor snow flurries, but the Christkindlmarkts have opened. Wooden stalls are set up all over town, but mostly concentrated in a few areas where there are large markets are held. They sell food and pastries as well as handmade goods like ornaments, toys, sweaters, and much more! This is where the tourists and locals go to Christmas shop and to gather for good company and cheer! Several booths serve punsch (punch with rum) and gluhwein (mulled wine), where people young and old congregate. You can also take a mug of hot punsch or glum with you while you walk around. It helps in this cold weather!

It wasn't until recently that Santa Claus made an appearance into Austrian holidays, but with Westernized TV and goods, the kids are getting confused. Traditionally, they have been told that Christkindl, or the Christ baby, brings the gifts on Christmas eve. Even more confusing is that while this is supposed to be a baby boy, somewhere along the way, people here started putting wings and blond curls on him and some Austrians think of him as a baby girl angel. In fact, the little figurines that are sold, definitely look like little baby girl angels. You can imagine the confusion for young kids!

I only visited one market briefly and it was raining, so when I return (and I will!) I hope to get some photos. In the meantime, if you are interested in seeing what it's all about you can visit the Web site for one of the markets - this one is at the Rathaus (the city hall) at http://www.christkindlmarkt.at/.

OK... back to my homework!

11.19.2005

Venice, Murano, and Burano

So, Andria and I were able to visit Venice, Burano, and Murano in just one full day. My blog will be short and hopefully, the photos and the descriptions will tell all. From now on... just one link to the photos.... look to the right (you have to be either on the main page or in the archives). If you don't see the Murano and Burano photos up, give me another 24 hours.

Venice is made up of 118 "land masses" in a lagoon. Everything is connected by and run by the rivers and canals. It is easy to get lost on land and you just have to be laid back enough to realize it's all an adventure and you never know what you will find on the side "streets" (canals). I remember being in Las Vegas and talking with my sister-in-law, Aundrea, about whether the Venetian Resort is really what it looked like in Venice. Maybe a little too pristine, but Las Vegas did a pretty good job ;-)

Murano is a 20 or so minute boat ride from Venice and an island all it's own. It is famous (since 1292) for its artisans that blow and spin glass. There were amazing products from vases, jewelry, frames, chandeliers, figurines, and those paperweights that my aunt and uncle have collected for years. Some patterns recognizable. It will be interesting to find these patterns back in the U.S. and see if they were made in Murano.

Burano is another 20 or so minutes past Murano via boat (what else?) and is another, smaller island. Known for it's lace and brightly colored homes.

Even though we packed a lot in one day, it was completely relaxing being by the water. I would go back in a heartbeat.

11.12.2005

Return to Florence

Oberservations:

- Men often stand in front of women’s shoe stores and seemingly debate about… well, I don’t know… maybe the quality, the price, the design?

- Whether they are on foot, bicycle, scooter, or in a car, the people in Florence have perfected the art of swiftly moving past each other on the narrow streets and sidewalks, leaving just enough room for a slip of paper to fall between them.

- The olive trees are amazing!

Photos at http://www.ljkinas.shutterfly.com/

OK, I still revisited all the touristy areas this second time around and took more photos of the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Battistero, with the Gates of Paradise. I spent my last evening sitting in the square by the Palazzo Vecchio watching a town hall meeting that was happening inside, but being broadcast on a screen for the public. Of course, I didn’t understand one word, but it was fun trying to figure out what was happening. Imagine my surprise when I heard someone call me name! It was a couple that I had met the day before, when I traveled to San Gimignano. The three of us figured that the city was trying to enthusiastically sell the idea of building some modern looking monstrosity as something that would fit in with the current architecture of the area. Ha!!

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: I also roamed the perimeter of my map. Although I stayed within the well traveled areas, I definitely found myself on side streets and in the midst of the lives of the people who live and work in Florence. I watched a man riding his bicycle with his dog sitting on a platform attached to the front of the frame. I listened to elementary school children reciting lessons. I got to know the woman at one shop well enough that when I saw her in the evening she waved to me. I also made it to an older area that did not look touristy. However, behind the walls of one block, I noticed that the Four Seasons was putting a lot of effort into renovating the grounds and buildings for a future hotel site. I decided to wander across the Fiume Arno and up the hill. I ended up on a single road, with walls on each side protecting gardens and homes that I couldn’t see until I found myself way up on a hill looking down on the area.

THE CHURCH ON THE HILL: Finally, I wove my way around the labyrinth of streets and found myself at San Miniato Al Monte, one of Florence’s oldest churches. The view of the city from here is amazing and would only have been better if there was a blue sky. So, there was this cat in the front graveyard. Everyone was saying, “Look at the cat” like it was a cute, cuddly stray. Well… my photos probably make this cat look like a big alley cat, but I am telling you that this creature was more like a bobcat! Just a little unnerving when I found myself roaming the back graveyards with no one in site. I normally do not photograph graveyards, but behind the church, I could not believe what I saw. I took a few photos, just with my friend Martha in mind, since she is interested in photographing and the history of graveyards and sites. Not just a few mausoleums were built here, but at least one hundred and each one was an elaborate chapel, down to the most minute details.

PALAZZO PITTI: I decided to travel a different, but still unknown, route down the hill and found myself at the Palazzo Pitti, a Medici family palace. I explored the gardens, finding more beautiful views of the city as well of a view of the valley behind the palace – the area where I had walked up to the church.

SANTA CROCE and THE LEATHER SCHOOL: Although it is deep into renovations, the Santa Croce church was one of my favorites! There was a narrow platform that hugged the high wall around the entire perimeter of the chapel. The frescos here were much simpler and the church just seemed so calming – maybe because most of the furnishings were taken out for the renovations! The church also houses a leather school, the Scuola del Cuoio, which was create after WWII to give orphans of the war a means to learn a practical trade. You can still watch things being made in the original work spaces. I was looking at a belt that was too big and before I knew it, a wonderful, little, old man came over fitted the belt and cut it to fit me right there on the spot.