Monday, October 5, 2015

Giant Pumpkins, Carp Spread, A Biblical Buffet, and Royal This and That

The Austrian Giant Pumpkin Growers (a real group, with an English-language title!) held their annual competition this weekend at Die Garten Tulln, a beautiful, beautiful garden in neighboring Niederösterreich.  

Tombola tickets were available for purchase, the lucky winner getting to take this gorgeous gourd home.
The winner of the competition was "Ferdl," weighing in at 526kg.
The second-place winner, whom no one ever remembers.
The remaining giant pumpkins were just happy to be nominated.

Also for viewing were displays of gourd genealogy.  "Yugoslavian Fingers" is an heirloom squash dating back to the 1800s. Now you know.
 No festival in Central Europe is complete without alcohol. Squash blossom schnapps and a pretzel, perhaps?
After a delicious lunch at the pond side restaurant and pretending to take an afternoon nap at home, it was time for "Lange Nacht der Museen," a fabulous concept that I don't think has made its way across the pond yet. All across Austria, museums keep their doors open until 0100; in Vienna alone, one could enjoy over 100 museums and galleries for the low ticket cost of €13. Of course, in an evening it really is only possible to visit a half-dozen or so, depending on the museum size, so the evening has to be plotted carefully...

...We began with the 1 Wiener Fischereimuseum, Vienna's first (and only) museum of the history of fishing in the Marshfeld Kanal. Why, you ask? Why not? The big museums in Vienna are brimming over with visitors, yet some of the smaller and less well known can be equally, if not more so, enjoyable.

The canal runs parallel to the Danube and serves to help manage the water during times of high water and flooding, and the museum was surprisingly interesting.  Fish head mounts adorned the walls of this tiny museum, run by gentlemen eager to show visitors each and every bobber, fly, lure, and reel.

Even to this day, obtaining a fishing license is a lengthy process in Austria. Who knew?

Fishing in the canal now is strictly catch-and-release, and we viewed some elaborate contraptions for keeping the "one that got away" alive and well for measurements before being returned to the waters. Yes, this is a fish gurney.
The museum snacks included smoked carp spread, which tasted much like smoked mackerel. We all dislike carp immensely, and so were rather surprised with how good this snack tasted. Maybe we'll give the Karpfen another go some day.
Our next museum was the Bible Center, a collection of over 500 Bibles displayed in a store front in a very compact (and crowded) museum.  Though we were able to see several on display, returning at a later date to fully appreciate the paper, the artistry, and the books themselves is now on our to-do list.

This particular Bible, housed in the Austrian National Library at the time, was hit by Russian Allies in 1945.
A little Bible humor on the WC door.
The museum offered a, "Biblical Buffet," and naturally we were curious. We shared a plate of ancient grains, lentils, chickpeas, grape leaves, and a lamb and leek stew, and the food was delicious!
The bowl of honey and cinnamon-soaked nuts, dates and currants for dessert was not to everyone's liking though.

The "Franz Josef Hat Museum and Royal and Imperial Wine Cellar" was our third destination of the evening. We had no idea what to expect from this "museum," tucked into a church basement restaurant.  The Piaristenkeller is a 300 year old monastic cellar containing, in addition to a collection of fashionable hats from the late 1800s and remnants of the old imperial wine collection, interesting tchotchke like this cornice piece of Stephansdom?
 The restaurant looks rather elegant.
"Curators" in the "hat" part of the museum/winecellar/restaurant encourage visitors to play dress up while wandering through the collection.

 The wine cellar was beautiful!

Deep in the cellar is a private tasting room, which also stores much of the Tokaj and Madeira collection from the Hungarian crown lands of the former empire. The sweet wines were favorites of Empress Elisabeth.
Tastings (of Sekt) were available for we commoners, as well. Prost!
Our final destination was the grand Garten Palais Liechtenstein. Though it is possible to walk the gardens freely, tours of the Princely Collection are infrequent and rather costly. What better night to wander the palace, then?

 Generous cushions and audio guides were provided for those who wanted to study the ceiling paintings.
While photography of the collection is prohibited, the Prince of Liechtenstein Foundation allows individuals to download photos of some of the pieces from the webpage. This Badminton Cabinet, so named for the English village in which it resided for many years, is considered the most expensive piece of furniture in the world, having been purchased at auction for $36.000.000. There are atleast a half dozen or so cabinets of remarkable artistry to view, though seeing the cabinet up close and in person was truly a highlight of the palace visit. 
Naturally, the Liechtenstein Foundation maintains a library of more than 100.000 books, in a grand setting.

And so our personal long night at the museums came to an end. Though our transportation home was not quite as grand as the Prince's Carriage, leaving a palace near midnight felt pretty imperial to us!

Friday, October 2, 2015

New York, New York: Parks and Gardens

The warm and sunny weather in NYC made finding shady and green spaces in which to pause a pleasant part of the day's itinerary.  In the Strawberry Fields of Central Park one can find tourists lined up to pose at the Imagine mosaic. Unfortunately, also lined up around the mosaic are John Lennon wannabes singing the song, rather terribly. 
The famous Bow Bridge, empty of romantic couples during my visit.
This pretty little bridge didn't have a name.
Belvedere Castle, designed to be little more than something with a "beautiful view."
Bethesda Terrace, Bethesda Fountain, and Bethesda Arcade. Like the Bow Bridge, this area of the park has featured in many movies.

 On the day of my visit, a new bride was the film star!
 The arcade beneath the terrace has Roman bricks and a shimmering ceiling.

A relatively new park is High Line, a converted above-ground train line no longer in use. A genius idea, I thought.  Judging by the number of people walking with me, I was not alone in my assessment. The park runs for almost two miles along the west side of Manhattan, from Bowery through Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen, ending where the Upper West Side begins.

Art as graffiti, or the other way around?

On my final day in NYC I visited the New York Botanical Garden, not just a park with pretty flowers, but a National Historic Landmark spanning 250 acres and over 1million botanical species, all organized nicely and reachable via the little tram that moves through the park.

A highlight of my visit was the Frida Kahlo exhibit of both her art and her (simulated) garden at Casa Azul.

In 2009 Anna Grace and I had occasion to see the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, so seeing Kahlo's works was a nice complement.
The garden is out in the Bronx, an easy 20 minute ride on the regional train that runs along the tracks and lines that Cornelius Vanderbilt, a 19th century American industrialist and philanthropist, built his wealth upon. 
Later that day and the following it was another train, then a plane, and finally, an automobile that brought me home.  I ❤️NY!