Posts Tagged ‘cathedrals’

The Hills are Alive in Salzburg


This past holiday weekend (Whit Monday), we headed to the famous hills of Salzburg for a long weekend.  Yes, we did sit down and watch The Sound of Music before embarking on our journey.  2 hrs in, Russ was begging for mercy.  It did help him, however, understand what all those other crazy American tourists were talking about. 🙂  Needless to say, we did not take the Sound of Music Tour that ushers you to well-known destinations from the movie…between what I can imagine is loud, joyous, (and thoroughly American) sing-a-longs of “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” and “16 Going on 17.”

On Saturday it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  We hadn’t arrived til later in the afternoon (around 4), so we figured we’d walk around for the evening, maybe hit up a Mozart museum, have some dinner, and call it a night.  When we arrived at the first Mozart museum, The Mozart Family Residence, it was closing in an hour.  Not enough time.  That’s when we really looked at our list of activities–EVERYTHING closed at 5:30.  We hustled to the lesser-reputed Mozart Museum, the Birth-house, and found that the hour we had left was plenty of time to work our way through the exhibits there.

Mozart's Geburtshaus

Afterwards we toured the cathedral, the Salzburger Dom. The dome itself was replaced in 1959, years after a WWII bomb had dropped right through.  The church itself is massive and quite beautiful, though seemingly plain from the outside.  Inside, there are stucco and paintings everywhere, and the organs are massive.  Mozart himself played in this cathedral for a few years.

Salzburger Dom

Another view of the cathedral--obviously taken the next day

After seeing the cathedral, we sought out some dinner and a café for some coffee and a piece of cake.  The town seemed throughout closed.  When we finally found a café and happily got out of the rain, the proprietor told us that they were closing in 15 minutes!  It was 7:00 PM.  Eventually we did find a great cup of coffee and a slice of Sachertorte, after which we decided to call it a night and hope for better skies tomorrow.



The Austrian flag

Amazingly, with a little more sunshine and slightly drier pavement, Salzburg came alive.  Restaurants set up their outdoor seating and while all shops weren’t open (it was Sunday), it was obvious that Salzburg is actually a living, breathing town.  We headed to the historic old town and hit up some of the sights we missed on Saturday.

Streets of Salzburg

McDonald's Salzburg-style

Mozart's Residence

We went back to Mozart’s Residence and toured through there with an audio guide.  It was interesting, but there’s something about audio guides that Russ and I really dislike.  Is it the fact that anyone could have had this up to his/her ear before me?  No, pretty sure it’s how whenever someone uses an audio guide, they immediately can’t seem to watch where they’re going.  😉

Next,we headed toward Mirabell Palace to check out the gardens and get some of the fresh mountain air.

Mirabell Gardens


Mirabell Gardens

The Gardens with a view of the Palace

SOM trivia question 1: Name the scene where the Pegasus statue was featured.

Cool View up to the Fortress--Our Next Destination

After enjoying the flowers in the gardens, we wanted to take advantage of the clear skies and get to the highest vantage point in case the sunshine was only temporary.  The Fortress, seated 400 ft. above the river, watches over the town of Salzburg.  It’s always done a pretty good job, too; it prevented anyone from attacking the town for about a thousand years.

At the top there are several museums and some spectacular views of the city below.

Approaching the Fortress

Salzburg and the River Salzach

Good View of the Dom

From the Fortress Tower

"Oh, Mother. I just couldn't help myself. The gates were open and the hills were beckoning and everything was so green and fresh, and the Untersberg kept leading me higher and higher, as if it wanted me to go right through the clouds with it."


Looking toward the rest of the fortress

More of the Fortress

Russ in Salzburg


When we weren’t taking the views, we spent the rest of our time at the top of Salzburg going through several of the museums; we started with the Fortress museum, where we got access to the top of the towers, and then headed to the creepiest museum of all.  The Marionettes. Russ took no pictures of the Marionette exhibits, I suppose for fear that they’d come alive at night?

I tried my hand at the art



Instead of taking the funicular down the hill, we decided to walk and get some more great views of the town.


Heading down the mountain

Approaching the Dome

Our dining spot from Saturday night--and Russ's favorite beer. Don't tell Germany!

Aaaand we made it!

I exaggerate.  It really wasn’t a very long walk.  However, we were feeling pretty grateful when the people climbing up the hill were passing up, sweating and panting.  Our all-inclusive Salzburg card turned out to be quite the bargain. 🙂

There’s more to Salzburg and more to our Sunday, but I’m saving it for another post.  Next time look forward to Hellbrunn Castle and Prince-Archbishop Sittikus’s famous trick fountains. Oh, and a really really cool trip to the Salzburg Zoo. 🙂




Italian Adventures–Part I

Since we’ve been living in Germay, Russ and I have really been looking forward to making our way towards Italy.  Russ’s family has visited Italy on several occasions, and his family origins lead back to the island of Sicily.  For me, Italy has always seemed…I don’t know, fantastical.  Beautiful countryside, legendary cuisine, boisterous people who celebrate living.  Not to mention all the history and culture.  This time (yes, this time, meaning there will be another trip in the future!) we hopped a plane to Florence; toured through the Tuscan countryside visiting Pisa, Sienna, and Orvieto; and ended our 6 days in Rome.

First, though, how about a little flight over the Swiss Alps.  Breathtaking!

Flying over the Alps

I was stunned to see people on the plane NOT looking out of their windows!

Russ enjoyed envisioning driving on those roads; I did not partake in that fantasy

We arrived in  Florence in the afternoon, picked up our rental car, and nervously made our way through the city to our hotel.  One thing is for certain; driving in Italy is nothing like driving in Germany!!  Lanes seem to be optional as everyone just inches forward to get the closest position; traffic circles are chaos; and drivers on scooters are EVERYWHERE, dodging in between cars and lanes.

Nevertheless, we made it and soon headed out into the city.  We traveled first to the city’s largest landmark–the Duomo.  Just to be clear, Duomos in Italy are large cathedrals.  They are deemed, “Duomo” because of the large dome on the top.  The Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence, the city of the Italian Renaissance, was originally built with a big gaping hole where the dome would eventually be.  They didn’t even have the technology to complete a dome, but they held faith that they eventually would!  Hence, the Duomo in Florence was the first dome of the Renaissance.

Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral

Santa Maria del Fiore

The Dome

Intricacies of Tuscan Marble Design

Most of the Duomos in the region follow this same color scheme; pink, white and green marble that comes directly from the Tuscany region.  (Mom–anytime Uncle D makes fun of your color scheme in the living room, you just need to tell him that you modeled it after Tuscan marble ;)).

Tuscan Marble Color Scheme

The inside of the Duomo was underwhelming.  Its vastness was apparent, and it felt downright empty.  (Rightly so, as there were no seats or pews at all and the majority of the artwork had been removed and placed in museums).  The beauty of the outside completely made up for it.

The rest of the afternoon we wandered around Florence, venturing down narrow streets and wandering into Piazzas.

The Streets of Florence

Russ enjoys the streets of Florence

Oh yeah, and we ate gelato.  I’m pretty sure twice in one day.


When we weren’t eating ice cream, we were visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia, the home of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, David.  The David was amazing.  You just cannot fathom how large it is until you are standing under it, gazing upwards at all the human features, sinewy muscles, and veins that were carved in stone.  No pictures allowed, and so we have none.  Sorry!

Our last stop of the evening was once again back at the Duomo.  Florence really seems to be the most beautiful when hit with the rays of early evening light.  The orange light cast an ethereal glow on the sides of the Duomo and it was relaxing watching the rays hit the buildings in the narrow side streets of Florence.  I felt like exhaling, “Ahhh, now this is Florence!”  Ok, I may have actually said that.


The Duomo




Ahh, Florence!

Please check back in for more from Florence and the rest of our Italian excursion! 🙂

Wunderbar Vienna!

In an attempt to curb the dreariness of the winter season (we haven’t seen the sun in 2 weeks!), Russ and I planned a long-weekend trip to Vienna.  The prospect of the trip was even more exciting because we were meeting up with Alyssa, a good college friend of mine who is now living in Vienna.

We started our 6 hour journey on Friday morning and made it to Vienna around 5 pm.  Our hotel was right on the Danube river, so we enjoyed an excellent view and relaxed until meeting Alyssa and Pirmin for an excellent night of home-cooked Austrian cuisine, wine, and great conversation.

Overlooking the Danube River in Vienna

We met again with Alyssa on Saturday morning, and she was nice enough to show us around Vienna, pointing out her favorite buildings and places to study or hang out.  We started at the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral which is an important figure in Viennese history, as its massive stature helped to attract people to what was originally a small town.  St. Stephen’s suffered during WWII, as Vienna was a bridge between the Nazis and the Soviets.  What stood out for me on the interior was the lack of intricate stained-glass throughout the church; unfortunately, though it did exist at one time, it was blown out in a fire during the Allied bombing and has been replaced with glass that is much less impressive. Nonetheless, the church is still impressive with a colorfully designed roof and the largest spire in the old Austro-Hungarian empire.


St. Stephen's Intricate Roof

Another Roof Shot

One of the Spires

After seeing the cathedral, we walked around and generally enjoyed the architecture of the city.  Alyssa took us to the library, the Parliament, and a café where we sipped delicious Viennese coffee concoctions.

Exploring Vienna

Beautiful Buildings


Cafe Central, where we enjoyed a mid-morning cup o' joe

The MASSIVE city library

Lauren and Alyssa in front of the library


Russ and Lauren in front of the Parliament Building

Alyssa also took us to the University of Vienna.  The buildings on campus are so beautiful and have such an air of grandeur; I can hardly imagine anyone being a student there!  It’s more than a bit impressive and even a little daunting walking into an institution as old and grand as the University.

University of Vienna--Looking up toward the philosophy department

Feeling smarter already

University of Vienna

Courtyard at the University

The courtyard walls--lined with busts of important figures in the University's history

We left Alyssa after lunch (:( ) and went to the Opera House.  The Opera House is truly elaborate and beautiful, despite the fact that it was critically received so badly that the original architect committed suicide.  Though the tour was pretty short and somewhat more of an advertisement for the upcoming performance of  Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” we enjoyed the sampling of history we received and the overall ambiance of old glamour (All the women wearing fur coats on the streets of Vienna contributed to this significantly!).

Opera House

Inside the Opera House

The Auditorium

Balcony Seating

Opera House Opulence

In the late afternoon, we spent some time at the Haus der Musik, exploring the history of the Vienna Philharmonic as well as reacquainting ourselves with the history of the famous Austrian composers Mozart, Haydn, Mahler,  and Strauss.  The museum is also interactive, so we experimented with manipulating sound in various ways.  It’s definitely a place where you could spend a lot of time, but we needed dinner and to get to a concert so we didn’t hit every interactive kiosk.

We created a Waltz by throwing dice

Yep, here I am in Vienna, the city of classical music, listening to...farting noises.

After dinner we headed to our concert.  You just can’t go to Vienna without hearing some sort of music!  I was super pumped about this one, a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” inside one of the most unique and beautiful churches we’ve seen, Karlskirche.  St Charles’ Church is flanked by gigantic, intricate columns on the outside, evidence of the Baroque era.  Interestingly, the church was built to honor a bishop who was inspirational during the time when the Plague hit Vienna.  The church also has a museum dedicated to him (Charles Borromeo).  We skipped the museum, but enjoyed every moment of the concert.  The voices of the choir and the timbre of the period instruments matched perfectly, and it was especially moving to hear their sound resonate in such a beautiful setting.

Karlskirche in Daylight

An Intricate Column of Charles' Church

Closer Up

Karlskirche at Night

St. Charles' Church

Inside the Church--marble, gold, and fresco

Looking Back Toward the Organ

Unfortunately we had to leave Vienna on Sunday, despite so much more that we would have liked to explore.  However, we did get to visit the most famous palace on our way out of the city, Palace Schönbrünn, home of the Habsburgs.  Though no pictures were allowed inside, we toured about 40 rooms.  The tours they provide are via audio, so I walked around with a handheld device up to my ear, learning about the history of each room.  Russ chuckled (or perhaps scoffed) at the large presence of silent visitors with devices held to their ears, all of whom couldn’t manage to navigate the rooms without running into one another.  I couldn’t blame him for noting the oddness of it all, but I wanted to know the history.

The Expansive Palace Schönbrünn

The Palace

Palace Shönbrünn, from the back

Palace Gardens

The gardens are massive, though not so nice looking mid-winter, and hold various attractions.  The Gloriette, the big monument at the top of the hill, provides a nice view over the palace and Vienna.  Also in the gardens is the oldest zoo in Europe which was built in 1752 by Maria Theresa’s husband in an effort to educate the court.  I think the zoo would have been interesting, but we had a 6 hour drive ahead of us.


The Gloriette

Schönbrünn Palace and Vienna

We had a wonderful whirlwind time in Vienna, in large part thanks to our friends, Alyssa and Pirmin.  Thanks you guys!  Even though we loved Vienna and drove into snow on our way back to Heidenheim, we were glad to be back.  Our sneakers and sporty coats are just no match for Vienna’s high-fashion fur coats and high heels. 🙂

To see more pictures from our time in Vienna:

Oui Oui, Paris!

Instead of staying in Heidenheim on the last Thursday of November, we headed to Paris to celebrate American Thanksgiving in a new way.  The City of Light welcomed us with a sparkling Eiffel Tower, and despite the cold and rain during the first evening, we trekked out to enjoy the view while enjoying crêpes.

The Eiffel Tower in the Rain

Happy to be in Paris!

That evening we headed to a nice French restaurant where we indulged in good French wine (when in France?),  salads with fried goat cheese, beef sirloin, and dessert.  We ordered iced nougat and chocolate mousse and were surprised to be presented with something different!  The waiter thought Lauren said “du jour,” so we ended up indulging in apple pie on Thanksgiving in Paris.  We thought it was perfect. 🙂

Turns out that November is a great time to visit Paris; tourists really stay away so life is more “local” than usual.  We were also able to get a hotel room with an Eiffel Tower view, so we enjoyed lying in bed and watching the tower sparkle.

The View of the Sparkling Tower from our Hotel Room

On Friday morning we grabbed some ham and cheese baguettes from a patisserie (yum!) and headed out to our first stop of the day, Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral

We’ve seen a lot of cathedrals so far in our time in Germany, but it was clear that this one was special, and not just because of its touristy reputation.  We enjoyed the paintings of biblical stories, the buttresses, and the strange presence of the statues of apostles climbing up the spire (who are apparently blessing the city of Paris).

Notre Dame

Notre Dame-Note the Green Apostles

Notre Dame--Buttresses

Notre Dame from the back

From Notre Dame, we visited the Deportation Memorial, a memorial in remembrance of the 200,000 French victims of the Holocaust.  No pictures, as they weren’t permitted, but imagine descending into a lit dungeon.  Inside the dungeon a barred window looks out to the sea, but you must bend to see out of the window.  One room held a long hallway lined with 200,000 lights, one for each of the victims, and an eternal flame of hope burning at the end.  The experience is, like many Holocaust memorials, disconcerting and moving at the same time.  After taking it all in, I felt grateful that I could climb the stairs out of the chamber.

Next we headed to the island of Ile St. Louis for a nice walk and look around.

Taking a Long Look at the Cathedral

and Russ!

We browsed some great boutiques and shops and enjoyed looking in windows like this one.


We had some lunch and then headed to our main event of the day: Musée du Louvre, Europe’s biggest and oldest museum.

The Louvre

Lauren in front of the famous pyramid

Looking up from inside

The Louvre was OVERWHELMING!  There is so much to see, and serious art fans could spend days there.  We ended up spending a lot of time in the Italian and French collections and then the Greek and Roman works, making sure to see the most famous “Mona Lisa” and “Venus de Milo.”

Inside the Louvre

What I enjoyed most was recognizing pieces of art and the artists, which didn’t happen all that often.  I was wishing that I had paid a bit more attention to the art history aspect of European History in high school. 😉  For me, the best aspect of the Louvre was the overwhelming architecture of the rooms and halls.  Like the picture above, the arches and marble were stunning, and sometimes I caught myself absorbed in the architecture of the building much more so than the art on the wall in front of me. I also loved to see so many school groups in the Louvre (call it the teacher in me).  In one group, kids around 10-12 were giving reports on a painting they had studied.  How cool is it to study a painting and then to go to the Louvre to give your report in front of it??!!?

Sculpture Hall


Mona Lisa--behind layers and layers of protection

Lauren in the Louvre

Artists lined up to sketch the statues

Venus de Milo aka Aphrodite

Love the Architecture!!

Russ in the Louvre

Good Night, Louvre

We LOVED getting to see so much of the Louvre.  It was truly a wonderful cultural experience.  However, after walking all morning and 6 hours in the Louvre, it was time to find some dinner and SIT!  We ended up eating a little Italian place near our hotel where we had some great wine and pizza (piled with fresh eggplant and veggies!).  And as typical for us, no matter where we go, we were given a free shot at the end of the meal.  We retired for the night and watched a glowing Eiffel Tower from the hotel. A great day in Paris and a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Coming soon…Day 3 in Paris!

For more pictures of Day 1 & 2:


The City of Defenestration

Good Morning, Prague

We woke up on Saturday morning ready to conquer the city.  After a great breakfast in the executive suite (perks of being attached to a frequent traveler), we met our guide, Lucie, in the lobby of the hotel.  She had a great 4 hours planned for us, starting on the other side of town at the palace.  We rode the subway and then a tram to get there.

Daryl, Russ, and Lauren in Prague Subway

Russ and Lauren and our guide, Lucie

As we hopped off the tram and began walking, we encountered our first glimpse into Prague’s obsession with strange ways to die.  An homage to two scientists: Tycho Brahe and and Johannes Kepler.  Poor Tycho had the unfortunate circumstance of the unusual death.  A true gentleman, Tycho refused to leave the King’s banquet when the King himself was present, despite the fact that he really had to use the bathroom.  Instead of getting pissed, (sorry, I couldn’t resist), Tycho held his bladder until the King left the room, which proved to be very unfortunate for him; some historians attribute his death to a burst bladder, others say kidney failure.  Either way, our first insight into odd death involved the privilege to pee (Urinetown, the musical, anyone?).

Russ and Poor Old Tycho

 After viewing the statue, we climbed the hill and entered into the grounds of the Strahov Monastery, a beautiful complex, and in which they have one of the largest collections of original books in the world.

Pope Marks the Spot!

Strahov Monastery

Oddly, the monastery rested just inside the fortication wall for this side of the city.  The Palace relied on the protection of the monastery to defend them from incoming danger.  The only other buildings leading up to the Palace were old houses and palaces of aristocrats.  Stunning!

The View from Castle Town

Daryl and the View from Castle Town


Walking Through Castle Town

Prague Created and Borrowed Architecture. This Facade is Borrowed from Italy.

The Intricacy of the Etching

And Finally, The Palace!!

The Guards Aren't Just for Show; the current Czech President works out of the palace

"Giants" Guarding the Palace

 Prague’s history is long and pretty twisted, just like many other old European cities.  I’ll try to clean it up and only tell the important parts.  Before there was a Czech Republic, Prague was part of a region called Bohemia.  And from the 10th Century on, it pretty much went like this: King dies, war breaks out, religious strife, King is ousted, religious strife, war breaks out, repeat repeat repeat.  Except that Prague was one of the most important cities of the region throughout the mess of wars and abdications, and Prague was a center of Protestantism even before the emergence of Martin Luther. 

Cathedral in Palace Grounds

The cathedral in the above picture is literally inside of the Palace, or at least inside of the palace grounds.  To attend church, people had to enter through the palace gates.  Services are still held in this church and it is open to the public, despite Czech’s presidential seat lying nearby.

The Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Crystal Mosaic on Cathedral

And now, the presence of the cathedral leads me to Prague’s favorite way to kill someone: DEFENESTRATION.  A reminder that defenestration literally means pushing someone out of the window and that this act was named for the city of Prague.  This is because Prague has two very famous cases of defenestration in its past. 

DEFENSTRATION #1: Hussites (basically early Protestants) were unhappy with the Catholic Church and felt that there was a lot of corruption.  In an attempt to persuade the city councilmen to release Hussite prisoners, a group of Hussites marched on the square.   Unfortunately while they were marching, a stone was thrown at the head of the organizer.  In a rage the mob stormed into the castle and proceeded to toss all 13 city council members out of the window to their death on the cobblestones below.

Defenestration Window One

Window of Pain-Defenestration Window #2

DEFENESTRATION #2: Though defenestration was definitely known by the time the 1600’s rolled around, I suppose it had not been perfected.  At this time, King Ferdinand (a Catholic) was expected to inherit the throne of Bohemia.  This caused a big problem for Protestants who feared oppression.  So what should one do? Throw the big-wig Regents out the 3rd story window!  Unfortunately for those unlucky Protestants, the men landed safely on a huge pile of dung.  And because of this incident (and others as well) the 30 yrs. war began.  Who would have guessed that so much of the #1 Bohemian city’s problems all existed because of #2.  Teehee.

Anywayyyy….from Castle Town we made our way down through Lesser Town which is full of more palaces and beautiful houses of the noblemen. 

Making Our Way Into Lesser Town

The doors were absolutely stunning!

The Seat of Congress

Russ and Lauren in the Congress Gardens

Daryl Outside the Artwall Which Can Only Be Described as "Ghoulish"

After 4 great hours of walking and learning, we had to let Lucie go.  Plus, we were pretty hungry and ready to have a seat!  We ended up at one of Lucie’s recommended restaurants, “Kolkovna.” 

Kolkovna Czech Cuisine

Russ and Daryl at Kolkovna


After a great lunch we retired to our quarters for awhile.  We had a big night ahead of us–dancing and singing at a traditional Czech Folklore Show!

“Czech” back later for the folklore show and Prague Day 3!!

Welcoming Joe and Kate/Visiting Cologne!

On the second to last weekend in September, Russ and I drove about 4 hours to Köln, Germany to meet up with his parents, Joe and Kate. Joe and Kate had just arrived (EARLY in the morning on Saturday) in Frankfurt and taken a train to Köln where Joe was going to be attending a conference for work. Luckily we could tie the work in with some play as well. 🙂

Meeting in Cologne, Germany

After we arrived, we had a light lunch at a bakery before resting a little bit in the hotel room. Around 6pm we went out to tour the city. The main attraction in Köln is the cathedral which is massive and imposing, or as Moo says, “Brobdingnagian,” for all the Gulliver’s Travels readers out there. Because I know that many engineers are reading this, I’ll put it in some different terms. The Cologne cathedral boasts the largest facade of any church in the world with a height to width ratio of 3.6: 1. It’s big.

The Cologne Cathedral

The Massive Cathedral

Joe and Kate in front of the cathedral

That evening we went to dinner at one of Joe’s favorite spots, “The Sion Bruhaus,” where you can order bratwurst by the meter! It was crowded (which means that it’s a good place), but we were able to be seated in a cozy corner of the restaurant. Joe, Kate, and Russ tried the famous Kölsch beer of the region. The beer is served in long, thin .2 liter glasses. The tradition goes that if your glass is empty, the waiter will bring you another beer until you place your coaster across the top of the glass to signal the end of your drinking. The waiter also kept track of our beer by marking a coaster with tally marks.

.75 meters for the boys; schnitzel for the girls! Photo credit: Joe LaBarca

After dinner we walked around Köln and got to view the cathedral lit up. We walked across the bridge that straddles The Rhine. This bridge is adorned with hundreds and hundreds of bike locks all of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Some of the locks are engraved with the names of newly married couples and dates, others are drawn on with markers, and others still are unmarked. They represent, though, an unbreakable bond. Though the bridge is nearly full of locks, the tradition of “love locks” is relatively new in Köln.

Locks of Love

More Locks

Cathedral at Night

Köln at Night

Russ and Lauren in Köln

Thanks for this beautiful photo, Joe.
On Sunday morning we decided to take a Rhine River tour of Köln. It was a nice, relaxing way to bask in the sunshine and sea to the shores of Köln.

Kate and Lauren enjoying the boat

Interesting Bridges

Joe Sees Köln Through a Lens

Köln from The Rhine

Kate, Russ, and I left Joe in Köln that afternoon. We were returning to Heidenheim for a week of visiting while Joe attended a conference. Overall, a great visit! More to come on our visit with The LaBarcas.