Sunday, March 31, 2013

In the Wienerwald

With these writings I try and stay away from the "take this train to get to this place" kind of travel writing you can find nearly everywhere. Why bother with that, if you really want to find out how to get someplace there are tons of sources available on the internet.
That being said, I also realize that there are a whole lot of places that are a bit less traveled and might take a little work to find. I think my trip to Hinterbrühl outside of Vienna is such a place. Rather than only write about my experience in Hinterbrühl, I'm going to tell you how I traveled there too.
My main goal was to visit Seegrotte, Europe's largest subterranean lake. I guess you could call it a man-made lake, since it is in an old gypsum mine and there would not have been space for the water if people had not removed the gypsum. Also, there was some sort of explosion or something that caused the mine to flood. There were too many man-made causes for this lake to call it "natural."
The Seegrotte was also a manufacturing facility for the Heinkel HE 162 Salamander Volksjäger jet fighter. The Germans used the mine to build parts of the plane and assembled it someplace else. The Allies tried to bomb the facility, but didn't have any success. When the Germans left they destroyed it and it was restored to be a tourist attraction. Tours run all year long.
I started from Vienna and my first step was to make my way to the Bahnhof Meidling train station and catch an S-Bahn commuter train to Mödling (pronounced something like moodling). The ticket cost me €2, not bad for a 15 minute ride out of town. The S-Bahn trains to Mödling leave about every half hour or so for most of the day. Once you get to the station you will want to look for the bus stops for the 364 or 365 bus to Hinterbrühl Seegrotte. The bus stops are the closest ones to the station and have the numbers of the busses that stop there right at the top. You buy a ticket from the bus driver, so don't worry about trying to get one from the ticket counter. The guys at the counter don't speak any English anyway, so it was a bit of a struggle for me to figure out I could just pay the driver on the bus. The bus ticket is €2.
I honestly don't remember how many stops it is from the Mödling station to the Hinterbrühl Seegrotte bus stop, but the signs for the busses will tell you, just count. The busses aren't like the ones in Prague which announce the name of each stop before you get to it, so if you are like me and forgot to count how many stops you were suppose to look for you need to keep an eye out. The trip takes about 15 minutes or so and the name of the stop is Seegrotte. When you get off the bus you will be in Hinterbrühl.
After you get off the bus keep walking in the same direction as the bus. You will cross a river and come to a street going right. There will be the Seegrotte Cafe across the street from you. Turn right on that street and walk a little ways and you will see the Seegrotte entrance on the left.
Tickets for the tour, there is no other way to get in, are €9 which is a pretty good deal. The tour takes about 45 minutes and includes a boat ride on the lake at the end. My guide gave the tour in German and English, he was a nice guy.
The film The Three Musketeers shot a few scenes in Seegrotte and they seem to be pretty proud of it. A few of the set pieces are still there.
If you go in the summer time take a jacket. The temperature in the mine is a consistant 9 degrees Celsius, which was nice for me because it was warmer than the snowy Hinterbrühl day outside. Another thing to take along is something to wipe your camera lens with. The mine is fairly humid and it can fog up a lens pretty fast. I had a few problems with this and finally removed my haze filter and kept wiping my lens down with the bag for my sunglasses.

This is the entrance to the mine. You have to walk about 500 meters down this to get into the place. Be warned the ceiling for this tunnel is about six feet high, so if you're like me you will have to duck for the walk in. After you get into the mine though the ceiling opens up.

Here is a shot of the tunnel from inside the mine. Looks pretty much like an old drift mine. There really isn't anything ground breaking about it, pun completely intended.

One of the first things you get to see is a mock-up display of a miner from the early 1900s. It was just too cheesy not to photograph. I'm also not certain miners in the early 1900s wore hard hats, I think what they had was more like baseball caps you could attach a lantern to.

The next thing you can peek at is the miner's gallery. This is where they took their breaks and stuff. I don't know why they just didn't go outside, the gallery is only about 600 meters from the exit. This room, we were told, is a balmy 12 degrees Celsius all the time.

There is a lot more to this mine than you will be allowed to see on the tour. It's for the best really, getting lost in a mine is no pic-nik and is really quite dangerous. Still it was neat to see all these other doors into darkness.

The mine includes a shrine gallery with shrines to the patron saint of miners as well as a few memorials to deceased miners. As you can see the roof opens up quite a bit after you get inside.

Here is a better photo of one of the shrines.

This is the mine's chapel. It's called Santa Barbara's Tunnel and is pretty large. According to the tour guide there are services here from time to time which are lit entirely by candle light. Seems like it would be pretty cool to see.

Before you get to the lake there is a display showing some of the parts for the HE 162. There is also this old model of one on a stick.

This isn't the lake. This is actually a small pond about 14 meters above where the lake is. They have it well lit and it's pretty so here's a photo.

To get to the lake you have to descend these stairs. The rails in the middle were used to haul the fuselage for the planes out. The rails didn't exist before the Germans arrived to make planes. At the end of the stairs there you can see the lake. If you look at the top of the photo you can see the HE 162 display. It gives you a good sense of how far below, or not far below the lake is.

When you first get to the lake you are greeted by this set piece from the Three Musketeers movie. It's a movie I have not seen, but I trust them. Why would the guide lie about that?

You get on a boat and the guide steams you around the lake. It's a pretty short trip, but still pretty cool. The boat is electric and doesn't make any noise, which is nice. The guide turns lights on and off as you travel along and is very nice to point out the "beautiful water reflections." The reflections make the water seem a lot deeper than it is and at first it was a menacing site until you figured out what it was. The guide also mentioned several times that the level of the water is 1.2 meters. No one should drown if they accidentally fall in. I bet you'd get hypothermia in a heartbeat though.

Here you can see the factory floor under the water. It's just like any other flat, concrete factory floor. It is still pretty impressive to think airplane were made in here.

After the tour I wandered around the town for a little while and took a look at just how small it is. There really isn't much there. It is in the heart of the Vienna Woods though and is quite pretty. It also seems there aren't a whole lot of poor people living in the village. After my wander I decided to visit the Seegrotte Cafe. This was a great idea. I had a HUGE latte and the largest plate of schnitzel on earth for something like €10. It was a really nice cafe with a great staff. There were locals coming and going the whole time I was there and I'm guessing it was pretty much the only game in town. People would just pop in, have a coffee or a beer and split. It was a really homey feeling place.
From the cafe it's a sort walk down the road you walked in on to get back to the bus stop. I timed it just right, completely by accident, and bus 364 pulled up right when I got there. I paid the driver €2 again and then caught the train back to Vienna for €2 and still had time for more sightseeing in town.
So there you have it: an easy trip to a great part of the country and the whole thing, transport, meal and tour cost less than €30. I think there is some good hiking around the Vienna woods in the summer, so if you go then you could make a whole day of it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Back to Vienna

Well, I had to make a trip back to Vienna to collect my visa from the Czech embassy. They can't just mail it to me because it has to be attached to an empty page in my passport. I must say it is interesting, probably because I've never had a visa before. Basically, my passport now looks like it has two identification pages. The visa page is laid out the same at the main id page and has all the same computer type codes. I will have a complete post on how you can get your own Czech visa if you want, so be on the lookout for an "International Scavenger Hunt" blog post.
For this trip I visited the Vienna military history museum, or Heeresgeschichtliches Museum for short. I don't expect you to try and type that into Google, so I've made the name a link so you can get more information if you want. Everyone who knows me knows I love my military history. I frequently wow people at parties by explaining that the Battle of Letey Gulf was the last time anyone "crossed the T." I've made that a link as well, because I want you to keep reading without falling asleep.
As a military history buff the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum didn't disappoint. Granted, it's mostly about Austrian military history. There are various displays about other countries, but they are there to show the adversaries. The World War II section was particularly impressive and not like any of the glorious "look how we kicked Jerry's ass" museum exhibits you see in the U.S.
I want to start at the top with the museum, even though it covers the history of the Austrian military from somewhere in the 1600 to about 1945 there was one section that blew me away. The Franz Ferdinand exhibit really impressed me to no end.

Maybe it's because I like cars and I like history, but this is one of the most impressive cars I've ever seen in my entire life. This is THE actual car Ferdinand was assassinated in. You could try to argue that seeing the limo JFK was riding in at Dealey Plaza is almost as profound, but you would be wrong. Countless millions died in World War I which resulted from what happened in this car. Very few cars have been involved in events that changed world history like this one. There is even a bullet hole in it, look above the rear wheel. For the record, the Associated Press defines the time of assassination as when a person is mortally wounded, even if they die later. Lincoln was assassinated at the Ford's Theatre, even though he did not die there. I really can not think of a more historically-important automobile. I invite you to write a comment if you can think of one.
The exhibit didn't end with the car. Why would it?

Here is Ferdinand's blood-stained uniform. It might be vomit, or a combination; I've been in Prague a while so I've seen a lot of both on clothing. I'm pretty sure it's blood. The hole next to the collar on the left side of the photo, Ferdinand's right, is where the fatal bullet entered. I'm pretty sure that is what the sign said. I took a photo of it and will translate it and make an edit if I have to. To me, the car and the uniform were worth twice the €6 price of admission to see.

Then you have three of the guns used in the assassination and the grenades the killers really wanted to use, they are up there at the top. If you're under 18 and or haven't taken a world history class; do yourself a favor and click this link it will explain everything.
Honestly, the only things I think I've ever seen that are more historically significant are the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and The Constitution and they are all in the same place. Cut me some slack though, I've on been in Europe for five months or so. I know there are way more important things to see. I would have to say this is right up there with Bull Run for me, but a little more intense. In one instant, in the back seat of this car, the world changed forever. I know some parents who can tell their children that too, but it's not really the same.

Here's a close-up of that bullet hole, in case you missed it.
Since we're pretty close with Frans Ferdinand and everything I'll jump right in to some of the WWII display. It was in a seperate wing of the museum and included some cool stuff I didn't photograph like a Kublewagon (Volkswagen Thing) and an Air Force Will'y Jeep, which was a good restoration but not as cool as Little Audie.

In my last Wien post I showed photos of Flaktum, or flack towers. Here is a flack cannon, a baby one. Big brother is a bit more intimidating:

Imagine those towers topped with these nasty pieces of AAA darkening the sky with flak and shaking the ground firing as fast as possible. If you look behind the large cannon, you will see a example of the damage flack can do to an aircraft.

This is a half-track and it's just really cool. I'm not sure why it has or needs a front wheel, but I'm also not a 1930's military vehicle engineer. I first saw one of these in the film Saving Private Ryan and thought it was awesome. That is why I took this picture.

This photo doesn't really do a great job of showing the almost certain possibility of the driver's clothing getting caught in the track mechanism but it does do a great job of showing that the guy driving it was seated tightly between two huge fuel-tank bombs. I also get the impression that having some of the controls between your legs made things difficult. There were also foot controls for something. Still, I really just included the half-track photos because I think the vehicle is cool.

This is an Enigma Machine. It was the Nazi's coding device. Really, it's a laptop running just one program. No one was able to break the codes this thing created until one of these machines was captured. I'm pretty sure the film U-571 was all about how the U.S. captured a German U-boat carrying one of these things and changed the course of the war. The Heeresgeschichtliches Museum has two of these things. Maybe they use them to send secret messages during parties. They are both complete with instructions.

And what WWII museum exhibit is complete without a Nazi paper lantern? Pretty much all of them but the one at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum as far as I've seen.

Do the Fatherland proud and hang your Nazi lantern high. I don't know, it's just weird I think. Maybe they sent them to Japan. Many people associate paper lanterns with Asian cultures.
From about 1750 on there were a lot of guns. Actually, they had some muskets from the 1600s and they looked like they were just beastly to use. The person shooting them actually had to have a stand for the front of the musket to rest on. I'm not surprised, the things look like they weighted 50 pounds at least. I know one guy who could shoulder fire one, but he will remain nameless.

This is a detail photo of the "sights" from an early 1700s flintlock "sniper" long gun. I first tried to call it a rifle, but this was a smooth-bore gun. Soldiers of today have it easy compared to this. I honestly don't know weather you look through it, or put in on the Pope's head. I think part of the size was to help protect the shooter from the huge flash that came when you fired the gun, but I really can't say. I can imagine using it though and I know I'd never hit a dang thing. I never hit anything anyway and that is with good, modern sights.

Then I saw this bad boy and fell in love. This is a 38 "kaliber" pistol. That's right, not .38 caliber but 38 kaliber with no period. The sign underneath this gun showed only question marks where a date was supposed to be. It should be sometime in the late 1700s. Think Revolutionary War time frame. Understand, this isn't a blunderbuss where you take the nearest thing with some mass and cram it in the barrel. This is a calibered weapon, somebody actually made a lead ball to shove in this thing. People in the U.S. who don't like guns say the Founding Fathers meant muskets when they wrote the Second Amendment. Well, this sucker was made right around that time, so the Founding Fathers must have meant something like this. Aside from the fact that it must take at minimum 500 grains of powder to fire I want one. This makes a .50 caliber handgun look like a toy for young girls.

You can see the rest of the display here. Those other guns look downright tame compared to that 38. I bet you'd never need to shoot it. I think just brandishing this thing would be enough to scare pretty much anyone away. Of course with how short it is I bet you couldn't hit anything farther than 10 feet away. And reloading, come on if you hit a person with this, you don't need to reload. When your bullet is the size of a person's fist it has some stopping power.

There were "modern" guns in the museum also. Everything Austrian military seems to have stopped about 1945. I wonder why. This was one of the coolest gun exhibits I've seen. It is one of the first repeating rifles used by the Austrian Army, sometime around 1898. I don't think I've ever seen and actual cutaway of a gun like this before. They even cut the bullet in half, although that is black powder in there and this type of bullet didn't use that, but anyway. I suppose sawing bullets in half is a bit dangerous and you have to make due. Safety over accuracy is something I can get behind here.

Not to put too fine a point on it (pun completely intended) but humans have been killing each other with pointy things for a lot longer than they have been with guns. These are bayonets from the late 1700s because when it takes 2 minutes to reload your gun you don't want to be caught defenseless. These things are nasty and most likely killed more people than the guns they were attached to. They aren't the worst blades in the museum. There was actually a whole display of Turkish weapons. Evidently the Austrians and the Ottomans weren't friends.

See, I told you there were nastier things. These spears were labeled something "spiken." All I know is I would not want to be at the business end of one of these. If you survived a hit from one of these it must have taken months to recover.

The Heeresgeschichtliches Museum claims to have the largest collection of cannons in the world. Most of them are outside and it was cold and they were in a cage thing and whatever I got lazy and didn't photograph them. I was at the museum for four hours, cut me some slack. I did however photograph this mortar. It's almost a cannon and it was inside where it was warm. As a side note, check out that floor. It was creaky as all get out, but really cool.

If you're going to hurl lead from a tube you might also want to have something you can hurl from a man. These are early grenades. You took a hollow ball made of iron, or glass there in the back; filled it with powder, shoved a wick in it and hurled it at your foes, or dropped it on the ground and ran like hell. I think I read somewhere that more grenadiers were killed by their own weapons than by enemies. After seeing these I know why.
That is pretty much it for the important things I have to say about the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum. If you're interested I've been pasting Heeresgeschichtliches Museum into the text, because it really is a bastard to type. Anyway here are some fun photos I took too. The tank garden was closed until next week, bummer.


There were a lot of dolls in the museum. Some where small, some large. I liked these. It also turns out Austria had a navy. From the exhibit they had a navy for a long time. I still can't figure out why a landlocked nation needs a navy, but I'm a small-picture kind of guy. There was an exhibit of mannequins wearing Austrian navy uniforms and I really liked the light. It was a bit eerie, so I will leave you with that.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hate is a Strong Word

That's what I was always told when I was in elementary school. A teacher would ask me about something and I would reply that I hated it and almost every time the teacher would respond, "hate is a strong word."
Later in life, in college, I was told using strong words improves your writing and makes it more powerful. This is of course in direct conflict with people who always say you should try to live a life without hate. Perhaps Dr. Bob Gassaway didn't have hate in mind when he encouraged the use of strong words. Maybe William Strunk, Jr. meant something else. Who knows. It could explain a lot of journalists though.
I will table the rant about hate for a moment and answer a question I have been asked a few times since leaving the good ole US of A:
"What do you miss most?"
Me being who I am; I would be completely out of character if I actually cut right to the chase and explained what I miss first. That's just not me. I always have to take the long way. Besides, reading this wouldn't be quite as interesting distraction if I didn't fill it up with some love first.
Honestly, there isn't much I miss about the US.
I don't miss politics. I still read news from the US and I slap my forehead just as much, if not more, than I did when I read the news in the states. Does it really take a filibuster to ask Obama to explain why he thinks it's a good idea to have drone strikes against US citizens on US soil? I suppose so.
Is the Tea Party insane? Most likely.
Is the US becoming a nation of polarized citizens and politicians who are too busy making sure the other side can't move rather than actually getting things accomplished that could help the country? Yup. So good luck everyone in the US. The more you fight about right vs left the more other interests can take control while you aren't looking. It's like a game of twister where Democrats and Republicans are on the board and corporations are spinning the wheel laughing like mad.
Do I miss Americans? Not really. There are tons of them here and frankly, if I hear American accents on the street I try to distance myself. That isn't to say that I hate Americans, I have American friends here. I realize that just sounded like the typical, "I have black friends." Or "I have gay friends." But really, I wasn't really the type of person to engage in conversation with random people on the street in the US, why would I seek the same thing out 6,000 miles away? I do have black and gay friends by the way. I think even some gay, black friends. I'm so tolerant.
I do offer a hint to some Americans traveling, well anywhere, never assume people in public in a foreign country don't understand you. They do and it can frequently make you out to be a jackass.
Do I miss driving a car? No way. I can't even imagine trying to find a place to park in this city, especially down town. I've seen people driving here and it doesn't really seem all that bad. I think everyone likes to complain about how terrible the drivers are in their city. This seems to be a universal constant. I've heard many Czech people complain about bad Czech drivers. Really, with the public transportation the way it is here, there is no reason to drive. And, I'm in better shape from walking.
Do I miss the sun? This is a tricky one. The short answer is "no, I don't." The sun comes out so rarely here that it is like an event. I see it as the blessing from God it really is. It's like a miracle whenever it burns through the grey sky. It's like rain in the desert.
Do I miss English everywhere? Nah. This isn't really a big deal. Frankly in Prague English is pretty common, which isn't really helping my Czech. I'm pretty used to not hearing English in normal places anyway. Having lived in New Mexico where it is easy to find yourself surrounded by people speaking spanish at any time I'm used to it. The same thing happened on the Navajo reservation a lot to and trust me Diné is WAY more foreign of a language than Czech. Just ask the Japanese.
There are many other things I don't miss, like some foods. If I really want chicken and waffels I'll just make it myself. Trust me there ain't no soul food restaurants in Prague.
So, here it is. I'll start small. There are only really two things. The easy one is spicy food. Green chilie, carne adovada, a jalapeño you can taste not just see, salsa that doesn't taste like onions in watered-down ketchup, pasole, Richard Trott's green chilie stew (yes I realize I have green chilie twice) and the pleasure of eating something spicy and tasty. Czech people don't really like hot food from what I have seen. In fact I have had several lessons where I've not only taught my students English, but also the secret of salt for soothing a flaming beast in your mouth. I can live though. It's not the end of the world.
What I really miss is the one-dollar bill. Yes, the greenback, a buck, singles. There is something comforting about paying for a meal and seeing good ole George Washington staring back at you from the table after you slap your green down. He reminds you that being an American is a good thing and what it is all about. He is the foundation of our country and the foundation of a happy wallet. The one is honest and pure and elegant and most of all SILENT.
If you are walking down the street with a pocket full of ones pushy beggars can't hear that you have valuable money. What's a pocket full of jingling quarters good for? Does the bum need to feed the meter? Doubtful. And if you are feeling generous and decide to help a panhandler out it's pretty unlikely you'll make a mistake and give him $2 of your hard-earned money if you toss him a few coins. In Prague you can do that with one coin, heck with the Euro you can make the same mistake. If you want to give alms, go for it but I doubt many people want to give a beggar $2 in one shot.
I have been told street musicians think high-value coins are great because they don't blow away. It's a fair point and about the only argument for coins I can accept.
Another argument is that George gives your wallet a false sense of masculinity. You might be walking around with a big fat wallet only to discover you only have about $20 or so in it. This is bogus. If you were rolling around with $20 in Euro coins or Czech Korun you'd sink if you accidentally fell in the Vltava. Not to mention the fact that you'd sound like a Gypsy dancer or the tambourine man with every step. I'd rather think my wallet is better endowed than it is then sound like a poorly-timed car when I walked down the street. Do you need your points changed or are you just going to buy me dinner? Do a google search for ignition points you kids under 25.
What about strip clubs? I have not been to a strip club in Europe yet so I may be making a ridiculous argument, but that's kind of the point. In the US it is customary that if you approve of the performance of the lovely lady on stage in a strip club, you show your appreciation by giving her a $1. The gentlemanly thing to do is place it in her g-string. She is busy entertaining after all and stopping to organize such a donation would ruin the moment and perhaps disrupt her flow. If you are shy you can lay George on the stage so he can enjoy the show as well. I'm pretty sure if you walked into a strip club in Prague and started tossing 20Kc coins at the ladies on stage you'd be in trouble pretty quickly. How are you supposed to show your appreciation to these talented women?
Do you lay your coins on the stage? Coins are harder to collect than bills when the dance is over and it must be easier to carry a stack of bills off stage than an armload of coins. This assumes a dancer with enough talent to garner some descent appreciation.
It goes without saying that a g-string will not hold coins. Perhaps the dancers in Prague wear special thongs with pockets for coins. I think that would distract from the show and presents the potential for injury. What if a coin becomes dislodged during a particularly vigorous rump-shaking session and hits a client? What if the dancer is performing a difficult, inverted maneuver on the traditional pole and a shower of coin hits her and ruins her concentration? As you can see the implications are quite horrible.
Really, I just hate coins. I hated them in America. I hated them in Canada, which is technically America. I hated them in Mexico, once again technically America. I hate them in Europe, technically not America. I hate having one heavy pocket than makes a ton of noise when I walk. I hate having things in the same pocket with the coins beat up. I won't carry a coin purse because that's just another stupid thing to occupy space in my pocket, besides I have enough trouble admitting that I'm carrying an actual purse half the time now anyway. It's a satchel and it's pretty high tech before you start thinking anything. I hate the punter holding up the line in the grocery store sifting through his coin purse or handful of coin to pay for something. I hate being the punter holding up the line in the grocery store, but if you don't try to pay with exact change guess what you'll end up with? More damned coins. I hate not knowing what to do with a carboy full of pennies in the corner that you have been filling for 20 years and need a forklift to move. I hate having a pile of silver coins on my desk that can buy absolutely nothing and just takes up space. I guess I need a carboy. I hate the fact that there are $.08 worth of materials in a $.05 US coin. Coins were fine for the Romans, but it's been 5,000 years and there has been this thing invented called the printing press. I'm pretty sure Charon takes bills now, or would even be happy with a quarter, so there's no point. Heck, I bet he'll even let you pay for you're trip across the river with a debit card at this point, or your digital wallet smartphone.
Yes, the world needs coins. When you have to split up a dollar only coins will do. I understand that. The world does not need a $1 coin. Sorry Sacagawea and Miss Anthony. The world does not need a £1 coin, £2 coin, €1 coin, €2 coin, 20Kc coin, 50Kc coin or anything more that what is essentially one dollar. Does it really cost less to strike a £1 coin than it does to print a £1 note? I doubt it. It's valuable metal we could be using to make cars and bridges and stuff.
Yeah, yeah, yeah paper money takes resources. LIKE TREES and cotton if you're in the USA. Trees grow back, and while nickel might "grow back" it takes a little while longer than trees. Mining is nasty business and is much more damaging to the environment than trees. Unless you're clear cutting the rainforest in Brazil to make your money there isn't really an argument that paper money isn't "greener" than coins. Get it? Paper money -- "greener" dollars are green. Never mind.
So there it is, I hate coins and not much else really. I try to live a life free of hate, it can really mess with your chi.
Here are a few photo examples because I think blogs get boring without photos and there is a lot of copy in this one.

Here we have two good old 'Merican dollars, the Czech equivalent to two dollars on the left and a two Euro coin on the right. Who needs a two-dollar coin? I suppose it reduces the amount of this crap you have to keep in your pocket but we 'Mericans did away with our two-dollar currency years ago. That was a wise thing to do.

This is a bit more like it with our good friend and founder George right there, 20 Czech Koruna on the left and a Euro on the right. It's a little better I suppose.

 Here we have the equivalent of about six US dollars in coins. Imagine trying to stuff even part of this in a stripper's thong. What do you think this will do to your cell phone when its rattling around in your pocket? Notice anything else? Look closely. They don't have heads on any of the coins. This makes calling "heads or tails" pretty difficult. How do you call it? Dragons or buildings? That doesn't work because the 20 has a horse on the back, or the front I'm not sure which side is the front. The Czechs have a way to call heads or tails, but I forgot what it is. It's pointless anyway because the coins are constructed so that they don't produce the satisfying ring US coins do when you flip them. Who wants to flip a coin when it doesn't make any noise? Not me. I never considered how satisfying the ringing was when flipping a coin, maybe because I don't like coins, but it has to be the only redeeming quality of a coin. If you take the sound away it's just not worth having.

 Do you know how much this pile of silver coins is worth? Me either. It's just an annoying pile on my desk that keeps getting bigger. That is about all this pile of metal is worth, frustration.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Surprise Carnival

On Saturday I meant to take a quick walk to grab a candy bar and I heard some interesting commotion coming from the Old Town Square. I didn't really have a ton of stuff to do so I walked over to check it out. It turns out there was a carnival going on.

Granted it wasn't really a surprise. I saw the stage being set up earlier in the week and one of the time I walked past it there was a guy performing something. I figured the stage was set up for him and he would most likely perform a few times a day for the week. Well, I was wrong.

There were giant puppets and performers and people on stilts with costumes to make it appear as if they were riding giant birds. It was pretty cool.

I took a few photos of the giant puppets and then watched the performance by the stage. It was all in Czech so I only understood like three words. It was fine though everyone was having a good time.

There were two other giant puppets, but my favorite photos were of this one. I really didn't like what I had of the other two.
While the performers on stilts were in front of the stage doing their thing some of the other performers had a little parade around the square with a small band. Some people followed them and others watched the show at the stage. There were a few performers cracking whips every few feet and this greatly upset the horses hitched to carriages waiting for customers along the square. One of the drivers had to get out and calm down his team as the whip-cracking parade drew closer.
This is one member of the parade walking past a huge window I had no idea existed. I'm sure I've walked by it quite a few times. The refection of the building across the square in the window was awesome.
Once the parade returned it was time for the performers to get back to work. They made the audience get a little closer and then routinely pushed the show out in to the crowd. It was a lot of fun for everyone, especially the children.
I'm not sure where this girl got her mask, but there were a few other people wearing them as well.
The giant puppets wandered around the square while the performances were going on. Each one had two people controlling the hands with sticks. People were posing for photos with them and the people working the hands seemed to be having a good time patting people on the head and such.
Once the people on stilts costumed up to look like they were riding birds were finished with their performance they walked around the square a bit and then took a rest. That is where I nabbed my favorite frame from the whole thing.


Monday, March 4, 2013

I'm a Fool, in Vienna

Ah hah! I assume the title drew you in. Aside from a photo, there isn't really much better than a good headline for getting readers. And some would argue everyone is a fool, in Vienna.
So now, if you're still here I'll explain this in another Vienna post. This is about the only "museum," aside from the Albertina, I went to while I was in Vienna -- The Fool's Tower or Narrenturm.
This place was pretty neat, but they had a few signs prohibiting photographs. From what I've seen lately, signs prohibiting photographs are merely a suggestion. A suggestion which can safely be ignored by any tourist, this isn't the rez. So, I decided to take the moniker "when in Rome, or Vienna as the case may be, do as the Romans do." Romans being tourists in this case, you get the idea. I didn't go bonkers through because my camera makes a lot of noise.
Anyway this is a round building built in 1784 to house mentally-ill people. I think if your German is pretty good you might be able to learn a lot by clicking this link. Or it might tell you that you are an idiot and need to be committed yourself. I don't know. There is no mention of where the toilet, train station or tram stop is in any of the first few sentences so my German was exhausted and I gave up.

And if you are going to build a round building why wouldn't you make it like a doughnut? I mean, it just seems silly to fill the inside of the building with rooms and useable space. I suppose building it like a doughnut allows for twice and many fifth-floor doors to nowhere.

A big round building from the late 1700s is a bit of a thrill, but it's pretty far from the nearest U-Bahn stop so you need another reason to visit it. Turns out they have just the thing for that.
As you may have read from the wikipedia link this building also houses a museum for anatomy and physiology. What that seems to translate to in this case is body parts and fetuses (anyone know the plural of fetus?) in jars of formaldehyde as well as wax molds that had been taken of a few hundred skin disorders and venereal diseases. I swear, if I never see another likeness of a prolapsed uterus I think I'll be just fine.
There was a room of nothing but lungs in jars. I am not kidding at all. Smoker's lungs, black lung lungs, about 300 tb lungs, mesothelioma lungs and on and on. I didn't realize doctors used to fill the holes made in lungs by tb with wax so less blood would be coughed up. I know it now.
So, for a whopping six euro you were treated to a guided tour, presumably lead by some student at the university wearing a lab coat, in English. That price also included the self-guided tour of the first floor. The guided tour was of the second floor.
I didn't take any photos during the tour of the second floor. I sure the guide would have told me not to had I tried. The guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and I must say the whole deal was the best six euro I spent in Vienna.
I have a few friends who are way into this sort of thing and to them I say, if you are ever in Vienna this is a must do. Who wouldn't pass up an opportunity to see a real conjoined twin fetus in a jar? Or better yet the skeleton of a baby born without a brain or cranium, they had more than one of those. Trust me, all the good stuff is on the second floor, behind this totally awesome door:

The first floor is more of a display of medical instruments and how things were for medicine in the past. My favorite display was the dentist's office. I snapped this photo pretty quick like so don't judge me too much. I ask you to pay close attention to the wheels at the bottom back of the dental chair. It took me a second to figure out, but those are foot-powered dental drills. I thought the electric version was nasty business. What happened when your dentist got tired?

The other exhibit I found cool was the morgue mock up they had built. It is also where I discovered my 20mm lens is pretty sick. Not mortally wounded, but still sick. It's not supposed to be out of focus on the edges like that. It's supposed to vignette, at least on digital. I left the photo in because it gave the morgue an other-worldly feel. I didn't even have to use my Hipstimatic.

The only other thing I photographed was something I've been fascinated with for a few years and hope to build one day. 

It may not be a great photo, but it is a great still. I'm sure it was for medicinal use. So will the one I someday build. I hope to go bigger someday, but this looks great for small batch personal use. 
Anyway, if you ever find yourself in Vienna and you're bored on a Wednesday or Saturday morning stop by this place. The hours are short and it's only open a few days a week but it is totally worth the trip. Granted it may not exactly be for the kids, unless you really want to explain why the wax mold of that penis has blisters all over it. On second thought, it might be a good way to scare your young ones out of having sex for a few extra years. Enjoy.
And as another parting gift a cool detail photo of one of the windows in the courtyard. The brickwork and age of it made for a neat photo.