Monday, February 24, 2014

More from Vienna

Finally back with the rest of the Vienna pictures.

These first two were taken in the platz in front of the entrance to the Spanish Riding School (platz is still fun to say, platz-platz-PLAAAATZ).

I like the verdigris on the statues and architectural elements.

This is St. Stephansdom, meaning St. Stephen's Cathedral, which was just a couple blocks away from the Riding School.

You know what I'm going to miss when we go back to America?  The opportunity to see buildings like this one that are centuries-old.  America has identical McDonald's and Starbucks on every street corner; Europe has 14th-century cathedrals (and castles, castles are pretty cool).  Anyway, we did peek inside St. Stephen's in the evening, but there was a church service going on and we didn't want to be rude taking pictures.  Probably couldn't have anyway; sometimes you're not allowed and even if it was permitted, it was dark enough in there that I doubt we would have gotten any good photos.  So it's all moo.  (I know it's mooT, I'm thinking of Joey on Friends:  "It's like what a cow thinks.  It doesn't matter, it's moo!")

The left side of this building is a greenhouse which houses a butterfly garden.  We did go in there and took a few pictures, though it took more than 10 minutes for the condensation to clear off our camera lenses.  I don't think we got any spec-fabulous pictures in there though.  The right side is a restaurant I think.

Another picture of the Hofburg.  If we go back to Vienna, then maybe we'll go visit Schonbrunn Palace.

I think this is the Parliament building?

Artsy shot by Lee of a fence on the border of the Hofburg grounds.  I think I like it.

Proof we were there.

Such beautiful architecture.

So anyway, we walked around the city for quite a while and then took the metro back to our hotel and ended up having dinner in the hotel restaurant.  Then it was back to the train station to catch the night train to Krakow.

And here's our compartment on the train.  Behind Lee, there was a tiny alcove just big enough to put your suitcase in, and a couple of hangers for coats.  There was a tiny washbasin in the corner, and then bunk beds.  I took the top bunk just because I'd never slept on a top bunk before.  I think Lee had it better on the bottom bunk though, at least to start with--the heater was right at his feet so he was toasty in no time and it took me *hours* to warm up (we'd been waiting in the not-climate-controlled train station for a very long time before we boarded the train), though later on Lee woke up feeling like he'd gone supernova.  And there was a mattress along the wall that could fold out to make a third bunk, so basically the wall next to Lee was padded (I woke up once because my arm was going to sleep--my elbow was pressed to the wall).  If you did put down that third mattress it would be a really tight fit--I wonder if you'd even have room to roll over on those two bottom bunks.

So the accommodations on the night train weren't really bad I don't's not the Ritz Carlton on wheels, but perfectly serviceable.  The problem I had with the night train is that it made probably at least a half-dozen stops on the way to Krakow, and every time it slowed down the brakes would squeal loudly, and then the train would jerk to a halt.  Not exactly conducive to a good night's sleep.  Happily for us, once we got to our Krakow hotel, they let us check in immediately and I promptly conked out until after noon.  I only got up then because I was hongry ; )

Anyway, it might take me a while to post the Krakow pictures since I haven't even gone through them yet.  And I found out at the beginning of our trip to Austria that the stupid university decided to fail me on two parts of the comprehensive exam I took in January, so I have decided that that university has been a waste of my time and money.  It would be one thing if I had blown off studying for the exam, but I studied my buns off with the mostly-useless study guide I was given.  Thus, I have a very negative opinion of this institution for not providing me the tools to succeed even though I've paid them quite a lot of money.  So now I have to take those two parts of the test again in late March and then, no matter what, I am DONE with this university.  And don't expect me to get a doctorate, either.


Monday, February 17, 2014

The Spanish Riding School

Lee and I spent the last several days on a trip to Austria and Poland, how's that for a Valentine's Day getaway?  Our first stop was Vienna, Austria, home of the Spanish Riding School.  As a horse-crazy kid, I read all of Marguerite Henry's books that I could get my hands on, and one of my favorites was The White Stallion of Lipizza (you better believe I'm gonna preorder myself a copy of that--I always read the copy from the public library growing up, and I'm fairly sure that I never got my own copy.  The illustrations by Wesley Dennis are fantastic.)  So anyway, having read that book many times starting when I was 8 or 10, I was pretty darned excited to get to see the Spanish Riding School live and in person.

Pretty grand building, isn't it?  The Winter Riding School is on the left; on the right side (behind Lee) is the Empress Sisi Museum (which we didn't go to because we were only in Vienna for one full day and it was a very horsey day).

And here it is without us in front of it : )

The horse ballet performances are on Sundays, and we were there on Thursday, so we got tickets to watch the morning exercises.  It's forbidden to take pictures during the morning exercises, even if the guy seated next to us did just that, but we were good little children and followed the rules so no pics of the horses practicing.  While we watched, I told Lee bits and pieces of what I knew about Lipizzaner horses, and he was suitably impressed. 

The morning exercises lasted for two hours, and then we had a couple of hours to go get lunch and walk around a bit before we came back to the Spanish Riding School for a tour, which was awesome.  For part of that, we got to go in the stables, up close and personal with the beautiful white stallions--well, mostly white--a few of the younger ones are still pretty dark gray, they gradually get lighter over time.  Why are they white?  Some while back, some emperor or other decided he wanted white carriage horses, not realizing that the gene for grays (the technical term for a white {not albino} horse is gray) is dominant, so in a few generations he had a herd of horses that was 99% gray.  However, about 1 foal in 100 starts out dark and stays that way; it's considered good luck to have at least one of these horses at the Spanish Riding School, but of course the rest are white or getting that way.

I digress.  We visited the stables, but were once again instructed not to touch, pet, photograph, or kiss the horses even though we were SOCLOSE to them.  Our tour guide Louisa was talking about the horses and I was standing right next to one of the stalls and the horse put his face up to the bars and I swear he was ASKING for a little smoochie, but I was a good girl and kept my hands (and kissy face) to myself.  And now I'm pouting that I didn't get to kiss the horsie.  Anyway, we weren't supposed to take pictures then, but whilst walking around the vicinity of the Spanish Riding School later, we found where you can see into the courtyard of the stables, and you're allowed to take photos from there.

I need a telephoto lens.

Most of my pics came out blurry, but here are a few I got.

It kinda doesn't look like it in this picture, but that is the world's fattest cat.  We saw him on the tour and he looks like he ate like two other cats.

All the horses at the Spanish Riding School are stallions, which is a bit unusual.  Stallions are generally pretty hard to handle, which is why unless you're a horse breeder you generally only see geldings.  Well, all the stallions of the Spanish Riding School are also used as studs, but the Lipizzaner breed is very sociable so they're able to have a big group of stallions all together without much problems.  We were told that the horses even seem to enjoy the social aspect of having their stables where they can see people walk by.

Lipizzaners are bred to be a bit shorter and more heavily muscled than you might expect because they're dressage horses.  The moves they do in the horse ballet require strength and stamina.  Our tour guide said that the horses might look shorter and rounder than others, but "please don't go home and tell everyone that you came to Austria to see short, fat horses."

We watched the horses for probably about 20 minutes, and these two spent quite a bit of that time yukkin' it up together.

I like this shot.  Again, I took like a zillion more pictures but most of them were blurry, but in this one you can see the L brand on the horse's cheek.  It's not for Lipizzaner, it's for Leopold, the emperor who decided how the horses should be marked.  They have other brands that indicate their lineage, more on that in a minute.

This is me in the tack room, surrounded by saddles and the smell of horses and saddle soap.

Each of the stallions has his own custom-fit tack, so you can see the name plats by the saddles.  Each stallion has a double-barreled name:  the first name is one of six foundation studs (Maestoso, Favory, Siglavy, Neapolitano, Pluto, and Conversano) from which he is descended, so his first name is the same as his father's first name and so on back to the foundations of the breed.  The second name is his mother's name (and if they have two horses that are full brothers, then the second one gets a Roman numeral).  There's a set list of mares' names too, but more variation in those than in the bloodline names, so all these big brawny stallions are usually called by their mothers' names to decrease confusion.  Yep, stallions who answer to Kitty and Patricia and Fortuna and other girly monikers.  (The main horse character from the Marguerite Henry book was Maestoso Borina...and I still remember that despite not reading the book in probably 20 years.  No clue what the main human character's name was...)

I liked this pic where you can see the white horse hairs stuck to the saddle pad.

This is the patch on the saddle pads; it's the crest of the royal stud at Piber.  Growing up, I read it as Pie-ber, but our tour guide pronounced it Pee-ber.  Good to know.

After the stables, we got to go in the Winter Riding School arena and take pictures in there.

Couldn't decide which selfie I liked better.  The Winter Riding School is beautiful; coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago I was flipping channels and we came across a televised classical music concert which was held in the Winter Riding School.  The featured solo performer (a cellist) had the funniest duck face while he played, so I told Lee we should have done our own duck face pictures here but he said no one else would get it and I said who cares, WE would get it, but we didn't do duck face pictures.

Just beautiful, isn't it?  They do other events besides concerts here; Louisa said there's an annual ball in June, and I think maybe even weddings.  I imagine it would be expensive to get married here.  The two pillars in the middle are used in part of the Sunday performances; it was a Baroque dressage thing.

Gorgeous ceilings...

And the chandeliers.  I loved it.  I would love to go back and see a performance sometime, but if we don't get to, at least I can say I was two inches away from smooching a Lipizzaner.