Saturday, November 27, 2010

Our Second Home

Today dawned bright and sunny so we got out early to enjoy the day. We headed for the main square where the town hall has a large tower with a cool clock. On the hour at eleven and twelve it will play a song on the Glockenspiel and characters do a dance. We had seen one in Prague and missed taking a picture of it so this time I was prepared.

When the clock rang, I focused the camera and took a movie. Yes, I took a movie with my very own camera. The clock chimed and chimed and chimed. The Glockenspiel played and the minutes ticked by. My arms became tired. Nothing moved save my shaking arm muscles. After almost five minutes of glorious Glockenspiel music, I turned off the camera. I can’t say for sure that it was at the exact second my camera turned off but pretty close to that time, the characters began to dance. The irony of this is delicious, isn’t it?

As I failed to get a video of the action, let me reconstruct the scene in a play by play. There were actually two tiers of characters and the top tier moved first with jousters coming around to charge each other two times. The second time one hit the other and he fell back slightly. That was good. Then the bottom tier moved. The characters spun around dancing to the music. The whole episode had to have been about 8 minutes long, including the musical prelude I videoed for you. Can you imagine every day for 600 years or however long the dang thing has been there? No wonder it only does its thing twice now.

We went over to see the Residenz afterwards. This is the palace the kings and their families lived in while in Munich. We’ve been to many palaces by now. Even I am beginning to tire of the pattern of rooms and décor. However, Rick said this was worth it and he was right. If you see a palace, see this one. It’s HUGE! They have over 90 rooms open to the public and each set tries to outdo the rest. It seemed that every time a new king was up for coronation, he’d set up a new wing and recreate new rooms. This truly was what I think of when I think of palace life. Sumptuous yet homey; our second home.

The first picture is the banquet hall. The raised platform is where the king would eat. There was another room where there was a long dining table with elegant chairs placed only on one side. It seems that in the 16th - 18th centuries the royalty would eat in public. Every so often, on special occasions you could come to see the royalty eat. Isn't that hilarious? You could watch them use their cutlery, choose whom to talk to and when, watch how they drank from their glasses and so on. It was all very well rehearsed. I suppose it was a kind of early version of Emily Post.
The bedroom here they had only for show. No one ever slept here. When guests came, they saw this as they moved through the house. Behind the bed, the hangings were embroidered with silver thread making a glittering compliment to the gilt of the walls and ceiling. Over time, the thread has oxidized so it now lacks the same punch it used to have but you get the idea. Isn't this nice? A bedroom just for show.
The picture on the right is the ancestral gallery. Now why hadn't I thought of that? The entire hall is covered in portraits of royal family figures as far back as they can go. I guess we'd have a somewhat shorter gallery but then our hallway is somewhat shorter than this.

I also learned about religious relics. We saw the Christ doll when we were in Prague and I had difficulty understanding why it was so important. The audio-guide here explained that the Catholics believed that if you prayed to a relic, the saint attached to that relic would hear you and miracles could also occur through relics. The more relics you had, the better your chances for a miracle. It also raised your status so it was important for kings to gather as many as possible. Especially good were things like a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified or the robe he wore and so on.

It was a lovely day. Tomorrow it is supposed to snow again. We are off to Hopferau, a little village a couple of hours west of Munich. We’re going to try to drive so I’m sure there will be exciting stories ahead!

Munich

Our stay here was brief but I’m glad we came. We spent three nights in an apartment that was quite a ways outside the city. We walked around for 45 minutes in the dark cold streets looking for our place on the first night. The directions we were given were sketchy and nobody around seemed to have a clear idea of how to get there. We asked many passersby who slowly managed to get us to the right place. The apartment itself is great. It is on the top floor and has a loft bedroom. It is small but cozy and modern. We have a grocery store right across the street which has been nice because it has been cold and snowy.

It snowed our first day here which was lovely but not conducive to outdoor sightseeing. After our long evening walk looking for the apartment, we weren't anxious for the follow-up. We found a bus stop near our place and got on the first bus that came. It was cold, okay? The bus took us on a lovely warm half hour tour of outer Munich before arriving at a train station. Think of it like taking a bus from Langley to Abbotsford before catching the skytrain back in to Vancouver.





We opted to go to the Deutches Museum, billed as a world class technology museum on par with the Smithsonian. We can vouch for them. It was awesome. In fact, it was better in some ways. Tom felt it was on par. I thought the organization of information was better laid out.

We began in the mining section. They had really gone all out for this area. We walked into the basement which became more like a mine as you descended. You walked through tunnels that looked hewn from rock and looked at models displaying all sorts of methods used to mine through the centuries. Some of the models were life-size, including transport modules, conveyors, cutting heads and other things I cannot name because I don’t know what they were called.

For me, the best part was a small display which talked about the first gold mining. Apparently, in ancient times they mined gold using a sheep skin. They would sink it into the water and let the river run over it. The gold flecks would remain caught in the bottom of the wool because they were heavier. The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece was mentioned and it gave the whole story a new significance and symbolism to me. The Golden Fleece had always been a mythological creation but after hearing about how they mined, I can see that perhaps it was more symbolic than mythological and that made the whole story SO much more significant to me. It has been so exciting seeing how the myths I read as a youth were actually more than myth. It makes me wonder how many other Greek and Roman myths have deeper meanings that we don’t know about. And what other “stories” do we know that are actually based on truth?

After the mining display, we came into large rooms that showed how oil, gas, and metals are found and extracted. From there the museum looked at how metals have been used through the ages. Copper is the oldest metal to be mined. It was mined 6000 years ago by hand. 5000 years ago people learned how to create Bronze and this was so significant it launched the Bronze Age. We then went through many, many rooms looking at various metal machines. Many of the models were life sized engines used during the industrial age. Besides the life sized models of machines, they also had small models of warehouses where the machines were used so you could see the whole production. It was truly amazing the amount of detail and workmanship that had gone into the museum in this area.
We spent five hours in the Deutches Museum. Rhys thought he could probably live there. He was disappointed when we had to leave. They were turning out lights and he still wasn’t moving. It was embarrassing. They had a whole section devoted to math through the ages. Another section was on Nanotechnology and technologies of the future. It was just a great museum. If you ever get to Munich, we all recommend it.

In the evening we decided to go to the Hofbrau Haus for dinner. This is THE place to be during Oktoberfest. It is a large, world-famous beer hall. They used to make beer here but now they just serve it. It was packed with revellers. There are tables with signs above for regulars. Certain associations have their own section and you aren't allowed to sit there so they put signs over the tables. You can also get your own mug stored there so you can use it when you come in. Tom was torn between the fun of having a mug there and what that said about you as a human that you had a beer mug stored there. They had a band in full Bavarian dress playing oom-pah type tunes and drinking beer. They were having a good time. The beer mugs were huge, the noise of the crowd was deafening and it was a fun place to be.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Salzwerken

So as you can see, the family has eaten well in Austria. Actually, we are packed into our salt mine tour outfits. Not as flattering as they could be, especially with all those winter clothes. Salzburg and Munich are both towns started because of salt.

The salt was left as deposits of seawater became trapped during the continental drifts. Over time (and I mean a very long time) the water part went away and the salt part was left behind to mingle with the rock part. This is known as rock salt and has provided people with an essential mineral for at least back to the 6th century BC.

The first people to mine the salt as far as we know were the Celts. I didn’t even know the Celts were in this neighbourhood but apparently they were a prolific bunch and spread all throughout France, Germany and south through Serbia, Bulgaria and many other central and Eastern European countries and there were even Celts in central Turkey. Who knew? The Celts had primitive methods for extracting the salt, as you might imagine, given they were around in the 6th century BC. They would only mine during the winter months because of air flow problems in the mine.

The mine is designed with air ducts at the bottom and the top of the mountain today. This means that during the summer the hotter air rises and enters through the top shafts, cooling as it goes in and then dropping into the lower shafts before heading out the bottom. This would create a wind in the tunnels but doors have been created to control the air flow. It means that the tunnels stay about the same temperature (10 degrees Celcius) year round. In the time of the Celts, the cold air would flow in the bottom of the mountain during the winter months (as it does today) and would get warmer as it went inside so that it would rise and exit out the top shafts. It’s like a natural air conditioning system!

We didn’t have to wear our touques and mittens but we kept our winter coats on. As we exited the mine some time later I was actually glad we went in the winter because I think in the summer it would be uncomfortably cold in shorts and t-shirts.

The whole tour was a fun variety of rides. We started with a ride on a narrow gauge train into the mine. Then we walked through the tunnels to a slide. The miners would go down in the tunnels by sliding down long wooden banisters. Their banisters were longer and steeper than the tourist ones we slid down but we were all thankful because our slides were quite thrilling enough. It heated up your tender bottom so it was good we had several layers of clothing on. The slide was lots of fun.

Next, we entered a cavern with an underground salt lake. The Celts started the mining process but it was lost after about 1 AD and it wasn’t until just after the middle ages that people started mining again. At that time they discovered how to use water to extract the salt instead of having to chip it out of the rock. They would fill the whole cavern with water and the water would leech the salt from the rock. Once the water reached 27% salinity, they would drain it down to the town below. The townspeople would fill large copper bins with the water and burn huge amounts of wood beneath to boil the water off. When the saltwater reached a sludge stage, they would form it into cones and the cones would be the way they would sell it to other areas. We got to ride across the lake in a boat. They lit the cavern with atmospheric lighting and played mood music to accompany our ride.

When the boat came to a stop we faced several carved masks that looked very devilish, though our guide assured us we weren’t THAT far under the ground. Apparently, children would come down to wear the masks and scare away the evil spirits. Either that or bad children would be sent down to wear them for punishment. We couldn’t agree later which it was.

After the ride we walked through more tunnels and crossed the border between Austria and Germany. There was a little sign letting us know when we crossed to German soil. There is an agreement between Germany and Austria that Austria can mine the area below and Germany gets a section of forested area on top of the surface. Since the mines are no longer working, our guide indicated the Austrians got a bad deal but it seemed they were making a pretty good profit on the tourism side to me.

We came to another slide. This time it was even longer so Tom took a video of his ride. We also got to see a the replica of a body discovered in the 16th century. It was a Celtic miner and the miners who discovered it took it out to show the bishop. The bishop stated the body wasn’t Christian and they disposed of it. Our guide pointed out that wasn’t very good marketing on their part but really, how were they to know what a tourist goldmine they had on their hands? So, we have a picture for you of the replica rather than the original.

To get out of the mine we took an escalator. Yes, an escalator. Then we rode the narrow gauge train back to the start. All in all it was a very fun tour.
video

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Eye for an Eye

So this morning we took Rhys to the Krankenhaus to visit the Augenklinic so the doctor could look at his augen.

Does anyone remember the train ride from Istanbul to Belgrade post other than me? Well, in that post there is a picture of my son hanging his head out the window while his mother and father warned him of the dangers of such an action. Some time later, Rhys began to have problems with his right eye. He felt like he had something in it and it would bug him periodically. Although both Tom and I had checked it frequently and couldn’t see anything, when we looked yesterday there was an obvious spot on the iris close to his pupil. He spent the day trying various methods to remove it but to no avail and it had reached the point where it teared constantly and his eye was becoming more and more red.

The doctor at the clinic turned on the bright light and immediately spotted it. He gave Rhys some eyedrops to numb his eye and then brought a very sharp instrument close in to the eye and plucked out a sliver! He had a sliver in his eye! He gave Rhys more drops and covered the eye with a patch. We return tomorrow to make sure the eye is fine. Until then Rhys is walking around looking somewhat like a pirate.

This afternoon we went to the oldest restaurant in Europe to sample the Salzburg specialty, “Knokerl”. This is a meringue-like substance that must be made with about two dozen egg whites because it is huge. It has a layer of cranberry jam on the bottom and comes with a raspberry sauce on the side. It is recommended for two to share. We all shared it as a snack and could barely finish it. I can’t imagine trying to eat that after a full dinner! At any rate, the restaurant is called, “Stiftskeller St Peter”. Apparently, Charlemagne ate there in 803 which is why the claim to oldest restaurant. We did eat there but we didn’t see Charlemagne.

The Sound of Money

Today I forced the family to take the “Sound of Music” tour. It was great. We all enjoyed the four hours, though I was the only one who sang along to all the show tunes as we drove. We stopped at most of the spots the filming had taken place but the tour was best because of the many varied places around Salzburg that we got to see.

If you are a fan, you might recognize the pictures. Things I found interesting:
1. The Austrians don’t watch this movie and most don’t know it exists…except if you live in Salzburg where it is known as “The Sound of Money”. Over 300,000 tourists come to Salzburg each year just for the tour. They started the tours back in 1965, the year after the show hit broadway and Americans began arriving asking to see the sights. This company alone has given 2 tours a day, every day of the year since 1965. Cha-ching! The Austrians know the story because it was made into a German movie called, “The Von Trapps”. It has music as well but it is mainly folk music, more in the style of the music the family sang.
2. The strange growths at the tops of trees that we have seen all over Europe are Mistletoe! It is a parasite and grows on sick trees.
3. The gazebo is locked now because so many people were hurting themselves when trying to jump from bench to bench like in the movie.
4. The Von Trapps didn’t actually climb through the Alps to escape. They hiked through their backyard to the train station at the edge of their property and caught the train to Italy.

In the afternoon we toured the Residenz state rooms. The best part of that tour was the banister in the main hall. It had posts that were each created to sound a different tone if hit. The whole railing functions as a glockenspiel! Naturally, we all had to try it out and you can see where everyone else has tried it out over the past centuries as well.

We also drifted through another art gallery but the best part of that gallery was the furniture they had to sit on. I managed to get a picture of one piece but the guard caught me and so I wasn’t allowed to take any more pictures. I bring to you here, the coveted “picture of Residenz gallery furniture”. Just use your imagination to picture the matching couch and chairs.

Salzburg

So we caught a shuttle from Ceske Krumlov to Salzburg. Great deal. It costs the same as the bus/train combo and you don’t have to change trains and buses to get here. They pick you up at your hotel and drop you at the train station. It takes just over two hours instead of five hours. Great deal.

We dropped our bags and headed out to see the town. It was fairly underwhelming after the beauty of Prague and charm of Ceske Krumlov. We ate lunch at a sausage stand in one of the squares in the Old Town. One of the things about Austria/Germany is that they embrace their winter weather whole heartedly. The café tables on the square put out blankets and they actually ADD tables and food stands during Advent. They have fire pits and heaters out to help warm you but basically everyone just dresses for the weather. This is great as a tourist.

After a bite, we took the funicular up to the fortress that overlooks the city and prowled around. Salzburg means “Salt Fortress” although the fortress at the top of the hill is called, “Hohenburg”. This is the land of rock salt and there are salt mines surrounding the city to prove it. The torture chamber at the fortress was the most interesting. They had these metal masks of shame to humiliate people in the middle ages. See picture. I felt kind of drawn towards them, actually. It looked suspiciously like masks I had made the primary teachers wear in some of our performances in the library. I wore the masks too, of course. How times change.

When we came down the sun had set and the Christkindl market was in full swing. It was Day One of Advent this past Sunday and it looked like everyone was out to celebrate. The market is a bit like Granville Island only with a Christmas theme. They have lots of meat, cheese, bread, candy, wine, aperitifs, and then a wide variety of Christmas ornaments as well. There was more of everything than I expected but the atmosphere was just as had hoped. I am looking forward to more of the same in the coming weeks.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Adorable Village of Ceske Krumlov

One of the only places the rep at Rick Steve’s travel agency recommended other than the spots I had written down was the little town of Ceske Krumlov in the Czech Republic. He told us this was a “not to be missed” place. Last weekend we czech’d it out.

It turned out to be absolutely adorable. When we arrived it was raining. Julia was in charge of finding the way to the hostel which she did brilliantly. Now with a door like this, who wouldn’t love it? It was cozy and warm inside with lots of wood. A Canadian had built it.

We wandered around in the afternoon awed by the cuteness but when it the sun came out the next morning is when the city really shone. We took a hike up through the countryside but quickly returned to wander the streets again. The city is built on a river that snakes around. The river creates almost an “ohm” shape and the old town is built within this area. In the summertime, people raft down the river. We opted NOT to do this. The only mar on this otherwise perfect place is the communist apartment blocks. WHY, I ask you, why? Surely to goodness the communist architects could see the beauty and charm of the place as easily as anyone else. It must have just KILLED them to have to put up these monstrosities. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Put this town on your must see list.