Vienna: The UN and Donauinselfest

Our last day in Vienna also happened to be the first day of the Donauinselfest, Europe’s largest free open-air festival, so obviously we had to go! It didn’t start until the afternoon, so in the morning we decided to go to the United Nations office in Vienna. We took a general tour, which lasts for one hour. Vienna is one of four headquarters of the UN (the others are Geneva, New York and Nairobi). As well as the headquarters, the Vienna centre houses the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime… and probably some more. Those are the ones our guide went into detail about. Did you know that, as well as stuff to do with nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the IAEA also does things like advising  countries on the disposal of old X-ray equipment? Me neither! Here are some photos I took during the tour:

Once the tour was done, we headed to the island. There wasn’t much going on yet, but I got an ice cream from one of the stands and we watched some of the performers on the smaller stages. As it got closer to the time that official events would actually be happening, we started walking towards the large Ö3 stage, stopping on the way for food. I had some potato spirals… literally a potato cut into a spiral and fried, then covered in salt! In Germany, they’re usually served on a wooden stick but these ones were in a bag.

The first act we saw had apparantly won the right to perform in a competition. I can’t remember whether they were from Vienna, but all the band members were pretty young… like around 16-18. They weren’t bad though. Next came the official opening act… somebody called Thomas David. Apparantly, if we were Austrian (or at least lived in Austria) we would have heard of this guy. The announcer informed us that he’d been all over the radio over the previous few months. Not being Austrian (or having access to Austrian radio), we had never heard of him. He actually turned out to be good, though, and will be looking out for him in the future.

Thomas David was followed by Revolverheld, a band from Hamburg who I had heard of but never seen. (Apparantly they’ve played Das Fest in Karlsruhe before, but that must have been before I came to Germany). I didn’t recognise any of their songs, but every single other member of the audience seemed to be singing along… including Jan! Never mind, I enjoyed their set anyway. After Revolverheld came Nico and Vinz, a hip hop duo from Norway. Neither of us is into hip hop, so at that point we headed off to get some food, and found a stall selling baked potatoes. For the record, it’s hard to eat baked potatoes when you’re armed with only a plastic fork!

Revolverheld
Revolverheld

Once we’d eaten and been for a bit of a walk around, we headed back towards the stage for the act that I had actually wanted to see… Milow! Some people will be familiar with his cover of Ayo Technology (originally 50 Cent featuring Justin Timberlake), others may know him from the song You Don’t Know (people in mainland Europe that is… I have no idea whether he’s even known in the UK?). I actually like Milow, and enjoyed seeing him live.

The final act of the evening was Rea Garvey, but since neither of us was particular interested in him (I think I’ve heard maybe two of his songs…) and we still needed to pack ready to leave the next day, we decided to head back to the hotel after seeing Milow. As we were leaving, hundreds of people were still arriving… apparantly every teenager in Vienna wanted to see Rea Garvey!

A huge free concert was a great way to end our time in Vienna… but I’m still disappointed that we weren’t able to stay until Sunday, when Conchita Wurst was appearing as a special guest. I would have loved to experience her live!

~ I am counting Vienna (and Bratislava) as my June 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge ~

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Animals and mazes in Vienna

My brother left this morning,  so now I can get back to my regular blogging. I’m so behind on the things I wanted to write about! So now I shall go back in time to the end of June and continue where I left off with Vienna…

On our second to last day in Vienna, we decided to head to the Schönbrunn area. Schönbrunn is the name of the palace, but that wasn’t what we wanted to see! Our first stop was the zoo, called Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Tiergarten is an alternative German word for zoo, and literally means animal garden). It’s the oldest zoo in the world that’s still open, having started as an imperial menagier in 1752, and as far as zoos go, it’s a really nice one. They have both red and giant pandas, rhinos and, most excitingly, a tropical forest house with flying foxes! Also known as megabats, these are right up there among my favourite animals ever! Those of you who don’t like the idea of animals being locked away in cages should look away now. For the rest of you, here are some animals to admire. Our first stop involved reptiles and sea creatures.

I spent ages standing in front of a giant fish tank trying to get a photo of one specific fish. Eventually Jan managed to get one for me. It’s not the best of photos cos that damn fish was fast and also seemed to be the only one of its kind (there were millions of the plain yellow ones), which meant catching it while it was actually in sight was difficult, but hopefully you’ll be able to see why I was so excited by it… (hint: I’m not talking about the blue fish!)

Vienna

Not sure whether you can tell, but the fish in the middle has a yellow body with a red and black striped fin. I have no idea what kind of fish it really is, but it doesn’t matter – to me, it will forever be Germany fish!

After leaving the acquarium/reptile area, we wandered around looking at some of the animals who were in their outdoor areas. There were various babies among them, including elephants, a young giant panda and even baby mongeese! Also, if you click on the flamingo picture to make it bigger, you should be able to spot some young (not really baby any more) flamingos. They fascinated me because I had never seen a flamingo that wasn’t fully grown (and pink!) yet.

Next stop: Tropical house. It was warm in there… and humid (well duh!). There was even a sign outside warning people of that. It was well worth it though, because flying foxes! (Flughunde in German – literally flying dogs). I’d never seen one before, and now I want to see one up close. Way too cool! There were also various tropical birds in there and some cool frogs – some of them were so shiny they looked almost plastic!

After leaving the tropical bit, there was a kind og walk through the woods over bridges. Below the bridges there was a huge crater, which the information said was from where a bomb had hit the zoo during World War 2! Then, in the wooded area after the bridges, came bees! Mostly there was just a huge information board explaining the lifecycle of bees, how a bee hive works, etc. The actual hives were mainly behind in an area you couldn’t get to, but in some places there were glass panels where you could see in. It was incredibly difficult to take a photo of the bees, but I tried! And I then also had to take a photo of one of the items in the small play area nearby, because that too was a bee! I may have got a little overexcited…

Just past the bees, we came past a little girl and (presumably) her grandfather. Grandad was reading while the little girl stood near him with a bag of buts. As we went by, we saw a squirrel come running up to the girl, whol held out a nut. The squirrel then took said nut right from her hand before running back into the trees to bury it, then running back, getting a new nut and burying that one in a different place. Watching the squirrel and attempting to get photos must have kept us occupied for a good five minutes!

Vienna

Fiiinally moving on, we ended our trip to the zoo with a visit to the penguins and the polar bears.

After the zoo, we stayed in the Schönbrunn area. I had seen on the map that there was a section of the grounds labelled “Mazes and labyrinths” and I really wanted to go and check them out! First up was a simple maze where you just had to find a viewing platform. There were two entrances next to each other, so Jan and I decided to take an entrance each and see who could find the platform first. I won! 😉

Maze

Next was a labyrinth containing various activities (for want of a better word)… a square of rectangles that could be stood on to make music, a kind of pump to spray water and a kaleidoscope of mirrors. A second labyrinth had a pole with a bell a top (which I failed to climb) and a mathematical puzzle that kept us occupied for far too long! At only €3.50 for an adult it was certainly worth the entrance fee 🙂

The ultimate mirror selfie!
The ultimate mirror selfie!

We were forced to leave the maths puzzle unfinished when it was time to leave (well, we managed the simple version at least…), so we headed into town to watch the Germany vs USA match. Then we decided to have dinner at a place that our Dialog im Dunkeln guide had recommended – Jonathan and Sieglinde. Everything on the menu involves Äpfel or Erdäpfel – apples or potatoes (Erdapfel, literally earth apple, being the Austrian word for potato). Since potatoes are one of my absolute favourite meals, this was right up my street! I chose the baked potato with a spinach sauce, and it was positively green! Jan went for potato and wild garlic pancakes. I tried a bit of one, and let me tell you it was delicious! Of course, we both had to drink fresh apple juice. There were so many tasty looking things on the menu… if I’m ever back in Vienna I definitely have to go there again!

And thus concludes our penultimate day in Vienna, and my June 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge.

Pearl Jam in Vienna

I don’t normally write reviews of concerts I go to because I’m even worse at that then I am at reviewing books! But a few people have expressed interest so here goes…

I actually bought the tickets for Jan as an anniversary present. I like Pearl Jam well enough, but he’s the one that owns several of their albums! So when I received an email saying they were coming to Berlin, I had to try and get tickets. Of course, the day they went on sale ended up being a day where I was travelling back from somewhere, and by the time I got online the venue had sold out. It wasn’t until the next day that I thought to check whether they were playing anywhere else in Germany. They weren’t, but Vienna was on the list and, amazingly, there were still tickets available. I chose the best seats that I could still get (standing tickets were obviously long gone!), but as I’m sure you can imagine, they weren’t exactly the best seats… (Although I have to admit I was actually glad we were sitting! It was so hot in there that I just know if I’d been in the crush at the front of the stage I would have fainted before the end of the first song and ruined the whole night!).

The sound wasn’t brilliant where we were, but halfway through the gig Eddie Vedder paused to say that when they were doing the sound check, he seriously thought the sound guy was screwed! Apparantly, the Wiener Stadthalle had the second worst sound of any venue the band has played ever. So maybe it wasn’t much better down in front? Although he did say that the sound was much better now the hall was full.

Despite the less than amazing sound, it was a really good concert. The music went on for about 3 hours with barely a pause and every member of the band played excellently. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so hot (partly as a result of sunburn!) and we’d had better seats, but neither of things are Pearl Jam’s fault! Based purely on the band’s performance, it was an amazing gig and well worth taking the trip to Vienna for!

Vienna: Day two

Most of our second day in Vienna was spent at Dialog im Dunkeln, which I’ve already posted about, but I would now like to reiterate that it’s a really cool experience and you should give it a try if there’s one near you. (Also, we are now planning to visit the one in Frankfurt while my brother is here). Before we headed over there, we stopped at the station to buy train tickets for a day trip to Bratislava the next day. Once we’d done that, it turned out we still had some time left before our tour was due to start, so we popped into a church. I don’t remember the name of it…

We also had time to stop for a coffee, which I just had to take a photo of because art!! Having a pretty picture on your coffe may be an everyday occurrence for some, but it’s not something you see much of in Karlsruhe so I still get very excited about it.

Vienna

Once we’d done Dialog im Dunkeln, we decided to head to the Natural History Museum, stopping on the way for lunch. We ended up stopping at a cafe where we both had Mango Lassis to drink and ate the Indian Dal (spicy lentil soup).

Vienna

After walking for aaaages, we reached the Natural History Museum only to discover it was closed! We later found out that a lot of places had closed for the afternoon, although at that point we didn’t know why. The cute elephant outside the museum kind of made the wasted walk worth it:

Vienna

Next, we decided to try going to the butterfly house. On the way, we randomly discovered another exhibition, so we had a look at that. It was something to do with cables as art and featured a lot of extension plugs and wires, plus a weird video. I didn’t really get it…
By the time we reached the butterfly house, it was 5:30 p.m… 45 minutes after closing time. *Sigh* Since it seemed like museums were a lost cause, we decided to find somewhere to sit and watch the football instead, seeing as it was the day of England’s last match in the World Cup! (Yeah… we suck and didn’t make it past the group stage.) We found an Irish pub, where I drank Stiegl, a Salzburg beer.

As we were leaving the pub, we found out the reason for various things closing early… Putin was in town and there were various demonstrations/protests going on because of it. Here’s one that we saw for LBGT rights (I know there is sometimes a Q in there, too, but the sign we saw only had the four letters):

Vienna

We were both hungry by this time (even more so after watching people eating burgers and nachos at the Irish pub), so we went looking for something to eat. Jan found a brew-pub called Salm Bräu that had good reviews on TripAdvisor, but mostly from tourists. It turned out to be an okay place, but not somewhere I would recommend. The food was nice but forgettable, and my beer mostly tasted of yeast. Jan had a dark beer, which I tried but can’t even remember what I thought of. Never mind, have a photo of our beers anyway:

Vienna

By the time we’d eaten, it was pretty late, so we decided to head back to the hotel. On the way, we passed some kind of monument/memorial with cyrillic writing on it that had been cordoned off earlier in the day. Jan was curious, so we went to have a look at it. It didn’t take me long to get bored with his attempts to interpret the cyrillic, so I turned my attention to the fountain opposite that was all lit up.

I also took a photo of it in green, but I think two photos of the smae fountain is enough for a blog post 😉
After I went back to Jan, a Russian couple came up to us and helped with the translation of the cyrillic so we could finally get on our way! 😉 I wanted to get some sleep as we had an early planned the next day…
And that was Tuesday. Coming up next: A day in Bratislava, Slovakia.

*I am counting Vienna (and Bratislava) as my June trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge*

Vienna: The beginning

We arrived in Vienna late on Sunday afternoon after a seven-and-a-half hour train journey (including one change in Munich). Needless to state, we were quite tired and not up to doing too much that evening! Coincidentally, fellow Germany-based blogger Stephen of Doing Time on the Donau was in Austria at the same time, also for a concert! We had originally planned to meet for breakfast the following morning before he had to catch his train, but as it turned out he got back from his day-trip early and still had some time before the concert that evening so we decided to meet for dinner instead. On the train, Jan had spent some time looking for a restaurant that served Marillenknödel (surprisingly difficult to find in Vienna) and before meeting Stephen we went to scope it out and decided it looked nice, so that’s where we ended up eating. It was a warm evening so we sat in the pretty little outdoor area.

I decided to go for the Faschiertes  Kalbschnitzel (pictured above), which is basically meatloaf. Faschiertes is Austrian German for minced or ground meat (ordinary German would be das Hackfleisch) with the meat in this case being Kalb – veal. Der Kalb is also the German word for calf – unlike us English speakers, they don’t bother with different words for live and dead animals 😉 Dessert obviously had to be the long-anticipated Marillenknödel, but I’ve already told you about them…

Once we’d eaten, Stephen had to head off for his concert, so Jan and I walked down to the Donaukanal (“Danube Canal”), a former arm of the River Danube that’s now a regulated water channel. It borders right on Vienna’s city centre. Down by the water, there are a number of little huts selling drinks with sandy areas and beach chairs beside them. Obviously a beer had to be consumed – we were on holiday after all! 😉 I chose Gösser because I remembered it fondly from when I lived in Austria.

As the evening wore on, it started to get a bit chilly, so once we’d finished our beers we headed back to the hotel where Jan switched on the football. I saw part of it but fell asleep before it was over. It had been a long day!

The next day, we decided to go to the National Library because we hadn’t made it there on our previous trip to Vienna. The library complex contains various museums, and we bought tickets for four areas. The Prunksall (Great Hall in English), the Papyrus Museum, the Esperanto Museum and the Globe Museum. The Prunksaal is absolutely gorgeous! So many old books, and such a beautifully painted ceiling! When we went, they also had a special exhibition about the First World War (which, as I’m sure you all know, was triggered by the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914). Unlike other exhibitions, this one concentrated on what life was like for the people left back at home in Austria and was quite fascinating. Apparantly the Austrian Emperor, assuming that the war would be short and that Austria would win, had encouraged people to start sending in items relating to the war while it was still going on, which makes the collection at Austria’s National Library quite unique – everywhere else, documents were only sent in years after the war ended.

Our next stop was the Papyrus Museum, which contained numerous examples of writing on Papyrus, including Books of the Dead, extracts from the Koran, recipes for medicines and accounts (the financial kind). The Austrian National Library has one of the largest collections of papyri in the world and around 200 items are on display in the museum.

By the time we’d done the Papyrus museum, we were hungry and, in my case, incredibly thirsty, so we headed to the park in front of the library to eat the sandwiches we had bought at a supermarket near the hotel that morning. As we approached a fountain, we saw a crowd of people looking into the water and taking photos, so of course I wanted to know what they were all looking at that was so interesting. It turned out to be ducklings! All together now: “Awwww!”

We followed lunch with a visit to the Esperanto Museum, which was small but interesting. There was one station where you could listen to various constructed languages (including Esperanto). Then, last, but certainly not least, it was time for the globe museum. I adore globes, and this museum did not disappoint! They had enormous globes that I would need a ladder to see the top of and teeny, tiny globes. As well as ordinary globes showing the Earth at various points in history, they had celestial globes (showing the constellation), globes of the moon and even a Mars and a Venus globe. Something particularly interesting with the moon globes is that the very earliest ones only showed half of the moon… the side that could be seen through a telescope! The “back” was only filled in gradually once recording devices started to be sent up there and people actually made it to the moon! Until then, the other half of the globe was filled with explanations or symbols with a key.

Once the globe museum was done, we stopped for a quick beer then went to book a place on the tour for Dialog im Dunkeln the next day. There are no tours on Mondays, but staff are present in the building to take books. That done, we decided to try and find a place to watch the football. At the first place we tried, all the tables where you could actually see a screen were taken, so we went to the same beach hut we’d been to the day before, where there was a large screen. Of course, all the chairs there were taken too, but we sat on the ground by the water where we could just about see something. The match was pretty boring and the ground not exactly comfortable, so we ended up leaving at half time. Neitther of us was particularly hungry (we’d had a big breakfast and it was after 2 by the time we got round to eating our sandwiches), and I had a headache from spending so long wandering around museums without a drink, so we decided to go back to the hotel.

… And this seems like a good place to stop before this post gets even longer! More will follow soon. I’m counting Vienna as my June trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge.

Dialog im Dunkeln, Vienna

In the continuing absence of properly functioning Internet (Jan has contacted the service provider… so now we wait), here is a post that doesn’t require me to upload any photos…

While checking the TripAdvisor app for things to do in Vienna, we came across something called Dialog im Dunkeln, which sounded really interesting. The various reviews warned us that we would need to sign up, so we headed over there to do so on Monday and were lucky enough to find that some people had cancelled for the following day so there was room for us.

The concept of Dialog im Dunkeln (Dialogue in the Dark) is pretty simple. An underground room (cellar) has been transformed into a landscape with various obstacles that one might find in the world outside… a bridge over a little stream, a narrow gorge, a shop with step leading down to it. The only catch is that the room is kept in complete darkness… and I really mean complete darkness (well, there was one point where you could see light coming through a door frame, but it didn’t help much). Before entering the room, you’re given a white stick (the type for blind people) and shown how to use it, then sent down a corridor with various twists in turns that gradually gets darker and darker. In the room, a guide is waiting for you… somebody who is a) blind and b) familiar with the landscape you’ve been introduced to you. The aim is to navigate the various obstacles in the room as a blind person would. The guide is there to tell you which way to go and, if necessary, physically lead you to the right path. At the end there is a bar, also kept in complete darkness, where you can buy drinks and ask the guide any question you like. And you really can ask anything… personal questions are allowed!

The experience of being in complete darkness is extremely disorienting! Suddenly having to rely on other senses is far from easy, but I actually managed to do surprisingly well in there! The place is set up very well, with an area that feels just like grass (I assume they don’t have real grass in there?), a rocky surface with water running down out for the gorge, a “road” (not a real one obviously, but there are sound effects and you’re supposed to wait for the signal to cross) and even a boat, which moves pretty realistically! This is a really interesting experience and I would highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Vienna. Tours are available in German or English, so don’t let language put you off!

Alos, I’ve just read that the original Dialog im Dunkeln is in Hamburg, Germany. I’ve no idea whether that one’s any good, but if you’re in the area I’m sure it would be worth a try.

35 Before 35: Eating Marillenknödel in Austria

Number 14 on my 35 before 35 list was to go back to Austria and finally try Marillenknödel! That’s right… despite having lived in Austria for almost a year, I had never tried one of their most typical dishes (although to be fair I lived there from September til June, so not exactly during Marillenknödel season!). Obviously this situation couldn’t continue, so I added Marillenknödel eating to my 35 before 35 list and finally managed to make up for my failure pretty much exactly 8 years after I originally left Austria!

Marille is Austrian for apricot (Austrians speak German, but their own variety of German which has some different words. In normal German, apricot would be die Aprikose), and Knödel means dumpling… in this case a potato dumpling. To make this sweet dish, you remove the core of an apricot, replace it with a sugar lump then form a dumpling from potato dough (or sometimes a dough made with Topfen… the Austrian/Bavarian word for Quark) and place the apricot inside said dumpling. The whole thing is then steamed, rolled in browned breadcrumbs and served with a dusting of icing sugar.Very sweet and incredibly delicious!