Friday, September 30, 2011

There are no kangaroos in Austria

Ahh Vienna, home of culture, fine wine and the only Ultravox song I know. After months of nature sight seeing and physical activity, it was time for Ruth and I to go on an art and culture extravaganza. As such, we pretty much hit every museum and gallery in town. We even went to the globe museum - the only museum in the universe dedicated to world and celestial globes and even then, it felt like one museum too many. It was a whirlwind of high art, bad art and more globes than you can point a stick at.

Of the artistic discoveries I made, I have a new appreciation of Gustav Klimt. I had only ever seen prints of his work in the bedrooms of girls who liked Jane Austen a little too much and been long dismissive of his wildly romantic stylings. Up close, his work is exquisite and moving and I had to re-think my view on his work.

So much so that I even bought a Klimt Barbie doll for my collection. Even better than this, I discovered the work of Egon Schiele, another Austrian artist whose dark spin on art tickled my soul - his work was so beautiful and I wondered why I hadn't seen more of it. It is all murky contorted images, nudes and misery - strangely there was no Schiele Barbie doll. Sadly, I only had an hour with his work as the gallery where most of his major works are shown was being closed temporarily so a wedding could be held in the gallery. They had set up the registry and ceremony spot right in front of the picture below:

I'd say every wedding needs a little more Austrian sausage...
But then again, it seems that Austria has the weiner situation in hand.
We also got to see the opening credits from Desperate Housewives painting...
...and the freaky-ass children of Rome sculptures.
We went to the Museum of Modern Art which was absolute crap. I should have known from the German name of the gallery.

We also saw the Venus of Willendorf which is actually about the size of a one dollar coin. They certainly didn't tell you that in the history books at school.

This was at the Natural History museum where they had a never ending display of freaky stuffed animals. Even though this terrifying cat was stuffed and in attack mode, Ruth still tried to bring it home with her.

On that very day, we stumbled across a harvest festival which featured a lot of beer and lederhosen. However, this was the happiest guy of the day - a modern day Dionysus surrounded by buxom lasses feeding him wine on the back of a tractor. That dude was sooooo drunk...
We also went to a Gothic church in the heart of Vienna that was so huge that it was impossible to photograph.
Here's a rare shot of me praying that I never have to visit a large Gothic church in Europe again.

We then move onto Salzburg which is one of those towns in the running for the prize of 'most awesome old town'. The centrepiece of the city is a fort built in the 10th century that repelled pretty much everyone except Napoleon. When he rolled into town they just handed him the keys and said "go nuts buddy."

Here's a view of Slazburg from the fortress.

Unfortunately, the day we went up it was windy and rainy which played havoc with Ruth's hair...

...and made me embrace my inner-thug life.

We also visited a 900 year old catacombs carved into the side of a hill. This is me in deep contemplation on whoever could have done this...

I didn't know my brother had been here. On a side note: how well are Stoke doing at the moment - go the Potters!

Salzburg is also renowned for being the birthplace of Mozart who was apparently most famous here for his own brand of delicious chocolate.

From Salzburg, we made our way to the small town of Hallstatt which is one of the oldest continually populated places in the world. It's a small picturesque town of about 1000 people and 20,000,000 tourists.

On the Saturday evening, the local um-pah-pah band did a recital in the town square. It was amazing for everyone...

Except this guy who hates um-pah-pah music

One thing you should note if you ever go to Hallstatt is that it is impossible to get breakfast on a weekend anywhere. I'm sorry Mum but this was my breakfast on that fateful Sunday morning...

Ruth found a way around it by just hitting the booze straight away. I joke, I joke, she wisely waited until lunchtime and had break-lunch-fast.

They even had a Cafe named Cafe Zur Ruth which Ruth seemed to like. Anyhow, we ended our Austrian odyssey by going to Innsbruck. On the train there, it looked like it was snowing which got Ruth very excited because she loves snow. I assured her it was probably just sleet but it turns out that it was the first time it had snowed in the Innsbruck valley in a September since 1932. Ruth was pretty unhappy about that...

Oh the poor sad child...

As soon as we arrived in Innsbruck we caught a cable car up the mountain with what started as three day love affair with that snow. The first day we just went up and hung out in the snow.

On day 2, the weather had brightened somewhat so we could see the Innsbruck valley and played in the snow a bit more. On day 3, we decided to ditch the cable car and climb that sucker (apparently it is part of the Alps but I have no idea which one).

At the beginning of the walk we were feeling confident. I mean we were only walking as high as the cable car goes, how high can it be?
We started the slow march up the mountain knowing that we had about five hours to make it so we could catch the last cable car down. However, the walk was considerably longer than we expected. The snow of the previous days had largely melted at the lower levels.

Although you could find random chunks of it lying around much to Ruth's delight.
About half way up the mountain, we ran out of water which was of concern because even though we walking towards snow, it was actually quite warm.
The only solution was to start eating snow Bear Grylls style once we reached the snow line. I'm not sure if it's particularly good for you but it seemed like a sensible solution at the time. As we progressed we were worried we wouldn't reach our cable car deadline even though it was getting harder and harder towards the end.

However, (spoiler alert) we made it in the end. Here's our red faced victory poses.

We then sailed down the mountain in a cable car to our hotel. This is the view from our balcony. We sat there contented knowing that we had once again scaled another mountain without dying - YAY!

By the way, the town of Innsbruck is quite lovely and very picturesque as it surrounded by mountains on all sides. It does have a number of tourist shops that sell shirts that say "There are no kangaroos in Austria." I don't think anyone thought there was in the first place - weirdos...


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oh hey there...

Oh hey there. I have fallen terribly behind on the blog and hope to get everything up to date soon. Promise. I promise. I make no promises. ANYHOW, if you'd like to see what we've been up to in the meantime Ruth has posted photos from Austria as well as few more shots of us making peace signs and smiling at the camera on Flickr. You can find them here.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Estonian wine

Pity the youth of Estonia. The only work they seem to be able to get is as spruikers for theme restaurants where they have to wear Mediaeval dress and look embarrassed all day.

Here we have two Estonian law graduates discussing torts and whether it was really such a good idea for Estonia to join the EU.

In solidarity, Ruth and I also dressed in traditional dress for the day...

...although Ruth ended up taking it too far.

Anyhow, when I said Stockholm had an amazing old town, Estonia took that as a challenge and said "check this out asshole." The old town in Tallinn is a living monument to another age and is jaw dropping in its preservation and age. For example, when you walk into a pub which says EST 1248, you know you're right in the heart of history. The locals still talk about that bar fight in 1567 - oh those crazy invading Russians can cause some trouble.

The only problem with Tallinn was that the Northern Ireland football team were playing Estonia in a World Cup qualifier which meant the streets reverberated with drunken Irish football chants at all hours of the day. It meant trying to avoid them so you could enjoy the peace of the old town but they were drinking 24/7, everywhere (so unlike the Irish). My favourite moment was watching a live cross to the Old Town Square on a morning show. Even though it was 7:20am, the Irish were out in force and handed the reporter a beer while yelling at him to chug (that being said the Irish lost to Estonia 3-1 the night before and the Estonian football team are famous for being beaten by the Faroe Islands - exactly).

Here's me getting into the Old Town vibe.

They also had this great theme bar - "Music? We've got both kinds: Depeche and Mode"

Outside of the old town, the city reflected its Soviet past with that uniquely austere form of architecture you find in Eastern Bloc countries. It was pretty awesome though and even our hotel room had the vague feel of being a former KGB interrogation room - a lick of paint and an IKEA wardrobe really could do little to disguise this.

It's easy to make fun of foreign languages so here I go again. It seems the Estonian word for shop is ipood which is hilarious in itself if you have the mindset of a 12 year old (that would be me). So for example, the dvd store was called "filmipood" and the sex shop we walked by had a sign that said "erootickipood" - sounds messy.

I especially loved the name of the cops - the Politsei, the politest police force in the world. I'd say that would be true if all the cops didn't look like wrestlers and had loaded glocks on their hips.

The other great thing about Tallinn is that it is cheap so after a month of austerity and cheap home made pasta dishes in Norway, we could finally eat out and drink wine. Being a Baltic state, pretty much every meal was a bed of meat with a side of meat and a garnish of meat but that felt good for a change. Here's Ruth enjoying a particularly fine wine.

Whatever the case, I think Estonians are enjoying their embrace of capitalism.