Monday, January 14, 2013
We woke up this morning to a city blanketed in white as it must have nearly snowed all night! It is a winter wonderland outside and everyone was out to enjoy the day. I can’t say for sure how much snow fell, but definitely several inches are covering every surface including the sidewalks, streets, rooftops, and cars. The bikes especially look neat all covered in snow. We can hear the city workers outside working to clear the sidewalks and streets but so far this morning our street hasn’t been plowed and it looks gorgeous.
I had to laugh out loud when I saw the Vienna snowplows. When I picture a US snow plow, I picture a monstrous truck or tractor with huge snowplows on the front. Here in Vienna, I saw a tiny little tractor barely longer than a sedan, and certainly skinner than one. A little snowplow wedge sticks on the front and the little truck easily moves up and down the tight streets.
So, what did we do with our snow day? First we took care of the chores like checking in with the office as today is the first day they are open since we arrived. We also made another grocery store run. Did I mention the store is about a minute away? I’m loving our apartment. Finally we were off to see the town. Vienna is different by day, but mostly it is so different covered in white.
We started on the south side of downtown on the Ringstrasse or ring tour. Basically, this is a small loop around the main or downtown section of Vienna. The street was built to replace the city walls that surrounded Vienna in the 13th century. Today, we could take public transportation on an above-ground tram around the circle. The inner part of Vienna is deceivingly small and practically walkable, however, in the cold we stuck with public transportation. We took a copy of Rick Steves’ audio tour with us on the phones to learn what historic buildings we were passing.
First we hopped off in Stradtpark to take a walk. The landscape was one of a snowy winter wonderland. The snow was untouched by machines and pure white in the trees, on the ground, on the statues, and so forth. We found that the park had a little river going through it as well as a duck pond. The ducks and other birds around the lake looked pretty hunkered down and cold. We took several photos before going back to the tram stop.
Within a few minutes time we were already halfway around our ring tour and at the north end on a tributary of the Danube Canal. We hopped off and walked around a bit and could definitely see how this would be a popular spot in the summer. There were closed gelato shops and a walking path along the canal. Several die-hards were still out jogging in the snow, though. Good for them.
Another quarter of the way around we came to the Rathaus again, which looks quite different by the light of day. Well, I say light in a very generous sense of the word, since we haven’t seen any blue skies or sunlight yet this trip. =) Still, the Rathaus looks very different in the gray cloudy semi-daylight. Mostly it is duller as it isn’t lit up as it was last night. Also, they did not open any of the gates up for us to enter, so we had the same blocked view as last night and we got right back on the tram.
Our final stop was back in the MuseumQuartier where we hopped off to head into the natural history museum. I was a little surprised to see museums open on Monday as usually in Europe they aren’t, but this was one of the few that was open today. We’ve been to many natural history museums over the years and in many places we’ve visited. We start to think what else could be new. However, the Vienna Naturhistorisches Museum was unique and different. We were glad we came.
The museum was more like walking through a giant science laboratory than a museum. There were two main levels and the exhibits started with micro-organisms, went on to sealife, then amphibians and reptiles, then birds, and finally on to mammals. There was also more of the museum that worked it’s way through prehistoric dinosaurs, geologic sciences, and then onto the space sciences.
First, though, I should mention that we started in the cafe with a hot chocolate and a sandwich. The hot chocolate came as we’ve never experienced before! We each got a mug of steamed, foamy milk, like from an expresso machine and on the side a package with a cube of chocolate on a stick. Perturbed, we opened our package of candy up and realized we were to mix the chocolate into the steamed milk! A-ha! =)
Okay, back to the museum… As I said, it was more like walking through a giant science laboratory. In the micro-organisms sections there were mircoscopes out for our use where we could view all kinds of things. There were even some live micro-organisms worming around in a fluid. In the bugs section, the bugs were laid out on pin boards for the most part. Above each exhibit, they also modeled some very large scale bugs that made you think twice about walking around. The most cool, though, was an actual, live honeybee hive inside the museum with a plexiglass tube that lead to the outdoors so bees can fly in and out! Even in the cold winter, we could see bees moving around in the tube and of course in the hive.
When we moved on to the fish, they liked to lay out the different species of fish in tubes of preservative liquid. This was very science-lab-like rather than museum like. Instead of looking at models and photos, we were looking at hundreds of dead and preserved fish. Moving on to amphibians and reptiles, they did the same thing with them! There’s nothing quite like walking around between hundreds of jars of preserved snakes. 😉 Thankfully, once we moved on to birds and mammals, we were now looking at stuffed animals.
There were many bird rooms as the number of birds species seems to go on and on. Some of the birds looked a little odd stuffed, but for the most part it was a neat way to see all the species. they even went through and put them in amusing and realistic situations for example a mini-telephone wire with birds standing across it.
We moved on to mammals and then large mammals and there were cases and cases of displays full of each type. For instance, I was highly amused at the box of various antelope. There were cases of bears, big cats, rhinos, and etc, etc. And by now we’ve just covered only one floor of two in the museum.
On the 3rd floor, there was a brief, but very amusing exhibit of photographs of the behind the scenes look at the natural history museum. This photographer had gotten permission to photograph the back areas and basically used all the stuffed animals as still-lifes to photograph. By the time we made it down to the last floor, the first floor, we were starting to run short on time. So, we breezed through the dinosaurs (and we were highly surprised to find that one was animatronic!), geology, and space sciences sections. It looked really neat for sure.
The had a heat sensor camera at one station and when I looked into it I noticed that my nose was a different color than the rest of my face. I guess my nose was cold! Eventually, though, we had to head out because we had 6:30p dinner reservations at a top wienerschnitzel place in Vienna called Figlmüller. They are well known for the size of their wiener schnitzel which is of course bigger than the plate it sits on. We both got one and Mark also got their potato salad that was recommended. This is actually a potato salad as you would think of it, but with less mayo, and cold underneath a helping of lettuce. It was good.
After our dinner, we were in the area of the movie theater we tried to go to the other night, so we decided to go back and see if we could catch The Hobbit. Thankfully, the movie theater was much less full on a Monday night with no lines and we got good seats for the movie and watched it with no interruptions.
Overall, it was a great day in Vienna. By the end of the day we could see how much work the city workers put in to clear out all the streets and sidewalks. While the temperature still hovers at freezing, the snow isn’t melting, however, it has now all been moved off to the side and sits in big dirty piles. It is easier to walk around, but it is definitely less pretty. Oh well, off to bed.