Welcome to my travel blog! Over the next 10 weeks I will be travelling throughout Europe and will share my adventure here. The name of this blog is a Latin phrase which translates roughly to mean 'to gain, understand, perceive'. It explains perfectly what I hope to experience in this trip; a sense of understanding and appreciation for life all around the world.



Friday, December 31, 2010

When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie...

I'm really happy that I chose to stay on in Rome – there is just so much to do and see and no that I have a few extra days I can take it a bit easier and get lost a bit. It's very easy to get lost in this city – there are so many narrow, winding streets with little shops. And the big attractions are often hard to find because you may have to walk right around something trying to find the entry point into the street because they all close in each other! But then, bam! You can see this amazing building in front of you. Sometimes you have no idea that you are walking right past a beautiful building until you look up – then you see the marble work on the roof or a spire or something. It can totally catch you by surprise.

Yesterday I contacted the various companies I needed to by email to try and sort out the credit card issue. It's thoroughly frustrating and of course has to happen when I am overseas and in a difficult position to be able to do anything about it. However, I have to remember the mantra – I'm safe, I'm well and I'm being looked after. And I am supremely thankful that my big drama that I had to call mum and dad about is about a credit card and nothing to do with a hospital. Let's hope it remains that way! I still have to wait and see if this can all be sorted but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
In any case, I haven't let it stop m enjoying my time in Rome. Yesterday after contacting all the different companies, I made my way to the ancient Roman Pantheon. I have moved to a new hostel that is closer so I've been able to enjoy walking to places more. The Pantheon is particularly impressive because it is largely intact. It was first commissioned by Agrippa and then rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD and dedicated to the Roman pagan gods. In the 7th century AD is was turned into a Christian Church and today is still an active Catholic Church that has masses.

The inside


Rafael's tomb
 The outside (the other side had all the scaffolding)

When I went, there was a large amount of scaffolding on the right side as I think they are restoring some parts of it, but when you walk inside it is a huge dome style building. It is very beautiful and less ornate than many of the other churches one finds in Rome. It has a number of famous people buried there – the artist Rafael for starters, as well as Victor Emmanuele – the first king of Italy.

Once again, this major tourist attraction was very busy. Honestly, I would hate to be in Rome in the summer – if it is this crowded in the off season, it must be unbearable in the high season. In any case, I was able to get a quiet moment in one of the pews. I like to just sit in these places for a time and look around – in this case I found it particularly fascinating to see the blend of classical architecture that are often associated with paganism used alongside all the Christian motifs.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting caught up in the crowds and kind of just wandering around, see where the streets would take me. All sorts of vendors were out in full force, selling souvenirs and food and there were lots of artists selling their wares. I am totally in awe of the spray-paint artists – what they can do is amazing. I wish I could have bought a picture and taken it home, but I would have no way of carrying it. In any case, they are often in Melbourne. I will have to pay more attention when I see one.

Today I spent the morning at a small museum that houses the Ara Pacis monument. This is an amazing monument that was commissioned by the Roman senate in honour of Augustus Caesar's triumphs in 13 BC and is a celebration of the so called Pax Augustus (the age of Augustan peace) . This idea of peace is one that scholars have studied for a very long time and one that I spent a lot of time on last Semester at uni. To a modern mindset, peace seems to be incompatible with war, but in the time of Augustus when this idea (mainly through propaganda) was being cultivated, war was inseparable with peace. I could re-write my essays for you on this idea, however I'm on holidays so just take my word for it – the idea works when you look at the historical context and the motives and results of war.

After having spent so long studying one particular monument it was nice to actually see it in the flesh. It's actually smaller than I expected and some parts of it have not survived. However, we know what was on those parts from other primary documents. I've included a few pictures to show the beauty of this monument.

Various parts of the monument




It was simply a stunning day today – blue skies and sunny so I made my way to the very impressive Piazza Navona nearby. There I found a huge kind of fete going on, with rides and gift stalls and all sorts of fun things. It was a kind of post-Christmas Christmas market except not so cold! There was lots to see so I spent a long time just perusing the various stalls and repeating 'No, grazie' to the constant 'Bella! Bella! You buy this? A beautiful item for a beautiful lady!'

The fete




There was a Chinese lady who as painting people's names in a really colourful, expressive way. I've always wanted my name done like this so I had one done. It's really beautiful – I can't wait to put it up in my room when I get home. In the background there was a piano accordion playing – whenever I think of Italy I will always remember the sound of these things – they are everywhere, including on the trains!

There were also guys walking around making animals noises (I kid you not) and expecting to get paid for this “talent”! It was honestly the most annoying thing ever – I felt like punching the guy who kept up this high pitched mewing of a strangled cat. But it was lots of fun being there and I enjoyed myself a lot.

One good thing about being at this new hostel is that it is close to a supermarket – thank goodness. It is good in two ways – it is so much cheaper to buy food for meals this way and it is also a lot healthier. The only food you can buy when you're out is pizza, panini, gelati or nutella crepes. I can't tell you how guilty I feel with all the crap that I'm eating on this trip. The only place I was able to find healthy food while I've been out during the way was London. Perhaps I was na├»ve in thinking that I could shape up on this trip with all the walking I've been doing. I'm sure that yes, the hours spent walking every day are great, but they are fast being outdone by the European cuisine. When I get home, it's vegetables and jogging.

Just to finish up this post, I have few observations about Rome so far. First of all, if I was to write a book about this place, I'd call it “Coffee and Cigarettes”. This seems to be the staple diet of so many of the Italians I see around the place. Honestly, if I get lung cancer in later life, I'm putting it down to the time I spent here. The amount of smoke in the air is amazing – everywhere you walk, you're inhaling someone's cigarette. In Australia, smoking just isn't really that cool (apart from perhaps a few years at high school when you're young and stupid) and there is a huge health movement against it. I must say I've never been happier that we can't smoke in enclosed places anymore in Melbourne and we don't have a smoking culture. My clothes smell of smoke and it totally dries your throat and eyes.

Also, it seems that lots of Italians love to walk really, really, really s l o w l y and then stop right in the centre of the footpath and have a conversation where their hands fly around. And they all link arms!! Even the guys. It can be hard to try to get from A to B without being clothes-lined by their arms. It's actually really funny because I have been learning all about Italians throughout the year from my Italian friends and I am seeing things that I've been told about. One of the things my friends told me was Italians, when they are friends and are talking to each other, have their faces really close to each other. Well today on the train, there was this group of teenage boys and I swear their faces were an inch from each others as they chatted with the dramatic hand gestures. I had to smile. So many things I've been told about I am now seeing! There are lots of other things I have noticed and I'll put a few in each post.

And finally, good coffee!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Highs and Lows

Today I experienced the highlight and lowlight of my trip.

The highlight was the special tour I had booked a few few weeks about with the Ufficio Scavi at the Vatican of the excavations beneath St Peter's Basilica. These excavations were to find the tomb of St Peter – the first Pope of the Catholic Church and were begun in the 1930s. They were actually kept a secret from the public by Pius XII due to the political climate in Europe and Hitler in particular was very interested in arechaeological finds. I hate to think what would have happened if Mussolini and Hitler had found out about the excavations. But in 1950 when the tomb of ST Peter was discovered, the Pope made the announcement on Christmas Day.

Nowadays they run tours deep underground of the tomb and the Neecropolis that surrounds it. When St Peter was buried after his crucifixion in 64 AD, it was a very humble tomb as Christians were a persecuted minority. The area that he was buried in later became a Necropolis (city of tombs) for the wealthy Roman pagans so his tomb was surrounded by the far more elaborated ones of consuls and wealthy Romans. To make sure that St Peter's tomb was not lost, the Christians erected a small canopy above the tomb, with thin marble pillars.

Then, in the 4th century AD when Emperor Constantine degreed that the Roman Empire become Christian and stop the persection of Christians, he built the first Basilica in the area of St Peter's tomb. Because that area now had many pagan tombs, he did not destroy them but removed the roofs of the tombs and filled them with soil and levelled it off and built on top of them. It is this soil that kept the various tombs in the Necropolis so well preserved today.

So today we went down into the old Necropolis. I simply cannot explain how amazing this was – we literally were walking through streets with the original floors and buildings around us that are over 1500 years old. And they were so well preserved. It was very humid down there (it reminded me of being in the Pyramids in Egypt!) and very cramped. If you have claustrophobia then it would be a real challenge down there I think.

We looked at some rich pagan tombs and then there were the far more simple Christian ones. There is one small tomb where children and babies were buried that has mosaic frescoes all around it – these were just beautiful. Of course, when the Christians made their tombs, they had to be careful about the depiction of Christ as it was still illegal to be a Christian (this is obviously before Constantine) so Christ actually looks a lot like the Greek and Roman god Apollo, but there are symbols that distinguish it as being a Christian tomb.

And at the end we came to the tomb of St Peter. This was very special for me. I have never had any serious doubts about the truth of the Christian faith, but seeing this tomb and the other tombs around it and learning about their history has reaffirmed my faith tenfold. You can see where one of the marble pillars of the canopy that was built over his tomb is and there is also a slab of marble with lots of different people's writing on it. A small piece of stone was found inside this slab with the words - “Peter is here” written on it. And behind this piece of stone bones were found. They have been analysed and belong to a man in his seventies and have dirt on them that comes from the place where Peter's original tomb was. Obviously we can't do a DNA analysis on the bones but all the evidence points to them being St Peter's. They were placed in 19 boxes and placed back inside the tomb. When we got to St Peter's tomb we said an Our Father and I prayed for Christian unity and an end to the persecution of all Christians.

This undoubtedly has been the highlight of my trip. I liked the tour guide straight away when at the beginning of the tour he said that no Roman Emperor, with all their riches and glory in life, have nearly as many people come to visit their tombs and honour them every day as does one Jewish fisherman called Simon Peter. I find ancient Roman history fascinating and there are a lot of impressive things about this society, but being in the Vatican and especially on this tour has really cemented the reality of how brutal to his society was towards the early Christians. History would have turned out very differently had Constantine not converted to Christianity.

So that was the highlight.

The lowlight came this evening when I had to call my bank back in Australia. I noticed that my credit card (that I've been using all this trip to book things) was not working and there was a message from the bank to call them. I did, figuring they were probably wondering why there were so many overseas transactions, even though I had notified them I would be in Europe.

It was a long and painful experience getting through to the bank and I don't want to go into details as I will probably cry but essentially I've been told a company in the US has hacked my credit card and racked up hundreds of dollars of transactions. My card has to be cancelled, so now I have to call all the Australian companies who debit me to let them know I have no current credit card and won't be getting another one for another 2 weeks. This has serious repercussions on my trip as travel agencies need to be paid and I don't know what to do. Plus trying to get in touch with the Australian companies from overseas is going to be a nightmare. And I may end up losing all that money from the company that has debited my card.

Oh yeah, and this evening's call to the bank has cost me over 100 euros. So as you can imagine, I am feeling quite frustrated and upset. I admit that for the first time this trip a few tears were shed. This is the time that travelling with someone would be most comforting, but I have to find a way of dealing with alone. I'll let you know how I go.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ruins of Rome

Today was pretty jam packed with visiting archaeological sites around Rome. I actually went this morning to St Peter's again to see if I could get tickets to the Papal Audience on Wednesday morning, however it seems that everyone had the same idea because when I got to the Vatican at 9am there was already a massive line. I asked one of the tour guides around the place who said that generally people would be waiting 2 hours to go through security. To be honest, I wasn't really prepared to wait around that long, especially as I was aware that time for in Rome was running out and there was still so much I wanted to see. So I left it – the Papal Christmas Eve mass was fantastic to I think I should be grateful I got in there and move on.

So I hopped on the Metro and made my way to where most of the big sites of Ancient Rome are – that includes the massive Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It's an amazing complex of ruins. Some of them are quite well preserved so you can imagine them being a facade of a temple or part of the market place, and others are so ruined that you really have to use your imagination to see how they could possibly have been buildings. There was huge queue to get in to the Colosseum, however there were tour guides around the place advertising their services and for a little extra I could join one of these groups and skip the queue. It was well worth it.

I learned so much today that it's hard to compress it all into a simple blog post but suffice to say that the Romans liked their blood and guts. A day of games at the Colosseum (which was not called that during its day, rather it took this name after the giant statue of Nero in the guise of Jupiter that was erected out the front – it was called the 'Colossus') would be about 9 hours and include hunting animals, gladiators fighting other men and animals, ritual sacrifices to the gods and public executions. Apparently the stench of blood by midday was so strong that there were slaves whose job it was to fill long cylindrical pipes with fragrant flowers and blow on them in the women's areas so to stop the stench. I consider myself fortunate to have not had the experience of smelling a great deal of blood and I can tell you that after learning about what happened at the Colosseum I am pretty happy I wasn't alive around then.

10 years ago, Pope John Paul II erected a cross in the Colosseum, right where the Emperor would have sat, to commemorate the Christians who were killed there by the Romans. I was quite struck by our tour guide when she spoke of this. She had given us a colourful explanation of the violent games that went on with gladiators and animals, however when she came to talking about the Christians who were executed there, she was very sombre. She told us that until the cross was erected in the Colosseum, she had not been allowed as a tour guide to speak about the Christians who had been killed. In my own study of ancient Rome, some of the primary sources I have read of descriptions of such executions are very graphic – again, as a Christian I would not want to be around during ancient Roman times. I actually didn't know this, but each Good Friday, the Pope (this may have been JPII and not BXVI) comes to the Colosseum and prays there for the martyrs and then walks around the big building, praying. Hoards of people come to join him.

After the Colosseum we went to the ruins of the Roman Forum. Essentially this was the giant meeting place for every day Romans as well as senators and the upper class Patrician families (kind of the aristocracy of the day). Over the centuries, new temples and buildings were added, so there are still archaeological excavations taking place that are uncovering new finds. You can walk all the way through the area – it's very large. And above it looms the Palatine Hill where the Imperial Palace was. This palace was huge. When you go up there and see the ruins it looks like it was a village but all the ruins belong to the one palace. Nowadays the Palatine is really peaceful – there is kind of a botanical garden up there with fruit trees so it was really nice wandering around there.
I actually really enjoyed being with our guides too because, having studied ancient Rome for quite a while now, it was cool to know what they were talking about.

Here are some pics of the various ruins.


The outside of the Colosseum

The inside

View of the ruins of the Roman Forum from up on the Palatine hill


Some guys dressed up for photo ops with tourists (mostly female I might add!)


The park lands up on the Palatine Hill


And lastly, I've made a change to my travel plans. On Wednesday I was going to catch the train to Assisi and spend a few days there and then spend another couple of days in Siena before going to Florence. However, the trains in Tuscany have been hampered by snow so trying to make my way through that area by train will be difficult and I will also be trying to catch trains on New Years Day, which I've been told is pretty up in the air as to whether they will run or not. I have therefore made the decision to stay in Rome for the extra time and from here go straight to Florence. It is a shame to miss out on Tuscany, however I am actually glad to spend some more time in Rome. I've been here nearly a week and have been busy every day but I've barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so some extra time will be great. I've had to book another hostel but luckily I found one – as you imagine, New Years Eve time the demand suddenly skyrockets but staying in Rome is actually going to be a lot cheaper than my accommodation in Tuscany.

One day I will come back to Europe in the warmer seasons (most likely when I finish studying and can actually take holidays at those times of the year!) and will go to country Italy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Day

Well Christmas day certainly turned out a lot better than I had planned! I heard that Rome was a dead city on the 25th December with nothing open and no public transport operating and, as I had already gone to Christmas mass, I was planning on hanging around the hotel and perhaps going for a walk in the afternoon.

As I mentioned in the post before, the group that I became friends with while waiting at the Vatican for mass arranged to have Christmas lunch together. So we all went to the Papal Blessing at noon back in St Peter's Square (though we didn't see each other as again it was packed with a sea of umbrellas). The blessing itself was really cool – I am always impressed by Pope Benedict's multilingualism. It was quite short, with most of the time taken up by him wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in about 30 different languages. Then the massive bells in the Basilica rang out – they were so loud!

The Swiss Guard


One of the marching bands

A sea of umbrellas

I actually managed (again) to get a good spot so I had a great view of the Pope way up high in his seat at the balcony. My humble camera's zoom couldn't quite get close enough for my liking but you can see him quite clearly in the picture below.



Anyway, after this I walked to the Spanish Steps where we had all arranged to meet, and yes, the streets were very quiet. It was quite beautiful though as there were some buskers playing flutes and as the streets were so empty that the sound reverberated off all the buildings. I much prefer this kind of Rome to the crazy drivers and bad mouthed pedestrians who honk and swear at each other. Just a side note, I do not get Italian roads at all – there are barely any traffic lights so I never know when I have right of way and people will just park right in the centre of the street and have a conversation with some random person they see. I've learned to cross the street always with a group of locals and never expect that a driver will stop for you at a pedestrian crossing, even when you have a green man.

It was great to meet up with everyone and we did a quick walk up the steps and one of the girls had done her research as to which restaurants would be open and we found a really nice, cosy place that was like a hobbit hole (it was all underground) and so we had a Christmas lunch filled with good food, wine and fantastic conversation. All the others were from various parts of the US so I piled questions on them about all things American and they did with me and all things Australian. We must have had about a 3 hour lunch at least, and when we ordered dessert everyone ordered something different so we did a big dessert swap. It was such a perfect way to spend Christmas and I have to say, after nearly a month of travelling alone since I left my family in Holland, I am a bit starved for good companionship. Generally the people you meet along the road (with a few exceptions) are fine to have a chat to about general travel stuff, but I thrive on real conversation. I don't mean deep and meaningful stuff – that gets tiring and really I'm not going to have a D&M with someone I've just met. But to talk about real things – our lives and interests – that's what I dig. And so it was brilliant to spend time with great people where the conversation never slowed.

We finished up at about 5pm and said our goodbyes (and exchanged email addresses!). I think I can bet that if I ever visit the US, I would have people to meet up with! And I told them if they come to Melbourne, look me up (so mum and dad, be prepared to perhaps someday have 8 American stay with us).

The rest of my Christmas was, as boring as it sounds, taken up with doing washing. Nothing like washing your clothes in a bathtub to keep you grounded!

Today, however, most of the city returned to life. The weather also cleared up so it was blue skies and sunny again. I went to Sunday mass at Santa Maria Maggiore (which also a papal church) and arrived just in time for the main mass with some cardinals to be finishing, dammit. But there was another parish mass afterwards. And for those who are wondering, what's with all the masses?! I know it seems like I'm doing a church tour of Europe, but really, if you want to learn about the history of a place, go to the Church there. It's most likely the oldest building in the town and has so many different layers of history. Plus, the beauty in churches is amazing.

This afternoon I was hoping to go to the National Museum of Rome as it houses the Baths of Diocletian (which I studied just last semester at Uni, but I couldn't find the damn thing. You'd think that such a famous city as Rome would sign-post these things, but no. And it simply wasn't where it said it was on the map! After an hour and a half of walking the streets, I gave up and, as it was sunny, sat in a huge piazza (don't ask me which one it was, there are so many of the bloody things) with a coffee and people-watched. Italians are fascinating to watch because they are so physical with their language so even if you can't understand the words, the hands say it all. I saw fights, reunions, honeymooners, beggars getting annoyed at each other for taking the best begging spots, reconciliations and even a guy who looked like he was about 80, shuffle his way to his vesper and drive off, barely able to see over the handlebars. It was really nice to take the time out to do this. The weather hasn't really permitted it until now so I was glad I had the chance.

Photos from the piazza



Visiting the Vatican Museums

Just a quick post about going to these museums and the Sistine Chapel. Really, one could write a thesis on each of the different rooms of the museum and the beautiful artwork housed there, so I'm not going to try to give them justice. I simply can't. Each time I thought I had seen something that nothing else could top, I walked into the next room and was again floored by what I was seeing. It's not just the various antiquities that the museums house – the rooms themselves are works of art. I felt kind of delirious trying to see everything, until I just accepted that I couldn't and focused on a few things.

Because it was so busy, it was hard to take the time to really stop and look at what you were seeing. Plus everyone was taking photos so sometimes it was hard to see the real thing because someone's damn camera was in the way. But I usually found a quiet corner where I could just look. Luckily I had an audio guide. Apart from the crowds and cameras, the annoying thing about the museums is they are so poorly catalogued and the pieces have barely any explanation, even with the audio guide I felt like I was missing out on so much. I think they rely on people going with a tour guide who can explain these things, but the museum houses so many thousands of pieces the tour guides can't know everything!

My favourite parts of the museum were the Rafael Rooms (which will make even the most seasoned artist feel inadequate) and the Room of Maps, which had various maps of Italy and was in the most splendid hall.

The Sistine Chapel is right at the end of the museums and you could tell this was where everyone wanted to be. When we got in, I was surprised – it actually looks more like a hall than a chapel. There were a lot of security people there trying to keep the crowds silent and pouncing on anyone who took a photo and making them delete it. However, it was pretty futile. I found the whole experience in the Sistine Chapel rather frustrating because there was just so much to see, but the crowds meant you were constantly being pushed around so you couldn't look up. There were benches on the side and when I eventually managed to get a spot to sit it was better to be able to look at the walls and roof this way, but again, one could spend a year sitting in that chapel and understand only a small portion of what the frescoes are portraying. And I had less than an hour.

What I couldn't get over was the number of couples who, for some reason, found the frescoes to be aphrodesiacs. Honestly the number of people 'getting it on' in both the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum and also (to a lesser extent) St Peter's Basilica, was gross. And to my mind, also disrespectful. I have the same feeling towards people like this (and it's not just because I'm single and bitter by the way!) as I do towards those who took glamour shots at the Concentration Camp in Germany. It really angers me because it's essentially just big-time narcissism – how can people be so wrapped up in their own immediate desires that they can't see the significance of what is around them?!

Anyway, I could rant for a while but you get the idea. In short, don't go to the Sistine Chapel if you are expecting it to have any kind of prayerful atmosphere. However, words could never do it justice so the best I can say is that it is beyond amazing and you have to see it with your own eyes.

Having just read over this post, I've been a bit critical, however that is only because it really is difficult to be around so much beauty and not be able to take the time to appreciate it. I think it may take me many months of remembering and thinking about it to be able to appreciate it more fully. I think that goes for the whole of this trip.

Some photos of the kinds of things to see amongst the many splendors!






Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve at St Peter's

It's nearly 2am here in Rome and I really should be getting some sleep after the absolutely flat out day I just had, but I am far too wired to go to bed!!

Today I planned to go to the Vatican Museums and see the Sistine Chapel also (which I did and will post about them later) and then had planned to stock myself up with food, water and waterproof clothing and stand out in St Peter's Square for hours waiting for the Christmas Eve mass at midnight. You can of course, go into the Basilica for the mass, however you need a ticket for this and I was unable to procure any in my preparations for the trip. All the websites I looked on also said that getting tickets was notoriously difficult. So I had totally given up all notions of being inside St Peter's for the mass. Plus, I knew it was going to rain so I was prepared for a challenging night!

Little did I know that I would end up not only being inside St Peter's for the mass but would be barely metres from the High Altar and the Pope. This all came about because I happened to be in the right place at the right time (and with a little help from above I am sure!)

The mass this evening was at 10pm and I was not sure of how packed the square would get, so after finishing up at the Vatican Museums at about 2.30pm I walked past St Peter's Square and could see people milling around but no one actually settling in. So I went back to the hotel and got myself all ready with warm clothes, waterproof shoes, umbrella and extra food. I figured that if I went back and it was still empty, I could just wait in a coffee shop nearby until people started arriving. I'll just add at this point that it had been raining non-stop all day so I didn't want to have to be out in the rain any longer than I had to!

So I was back in St Peter's Square by about 3.30pm and could see that people were lining up in the rain for something. I thought it may have been to get inside the barricaded off section outside with seats, so I milled around a bit and waited until I heard someone speaking English and asked if they knew what the line was for. They said it was to get inside the Basilica for the mass if you had a ticket but if you didn't, then you would have to wait outside. This shows how busy it was going to get, given that there was already a line over 6 hours before the mass started! I thanked the people I had spoken to and went to go and wait under shelter for a bit, but they called me back and asked if I had a ticket. I said I didn't and a woman in their group said that she had some spares if I wanted one. Did I?!! I thanked them profusely and a guy in their group, who had recognised my accent as Australian, told me that given as I had come further than most people to be there, they couldn't let me just wait outside.

I couldn't believe my good luck!!! All my hopes had been to find an OK spot in the huge square, standing all night, but suddenly I was in! The people I had spoken to actually gave me two tickets, so when someone later on came around looking for a ticket for his friend who had just made it to Rome unexpectedly, I was only too happy to give the other one away. See, what goes around comes around! This act was seen by two women behind me who were quite taken by it and we got talking. They were a mother and daughter from the US who were in Rome and like me, really excited to be there for the mass.

Given that this all happened before 4pm and we didn't get in to the Basilica until just before 9pm, we had plenty of time to get to know each other. Plus it was raining non stop this entire time and everyone was drenched, even with umbrellas. So it was great being able to spend this (challenging!) time in good company. Then our group of three became friends with 3 more American girls behind us. And then our group of 6 became friends with another American guy and girl in front of us. So after waiting for about 5 hours, chatting all the while, we agreed that when we finally were allowed in, we would all sit together and not leave anyone behind. And so we did. By the time they let us in, the line was hundreds of metres long. Luckily we were at the front, but so many people had cut in along the way, it was not so much a line as a mob. There were a few short tempers exploding along the way as people got fed up with another group of tourists just magically appearing out of nowhere at the front of the line.
However, we finally made it in and got seats right up the front!! We all couldn't believe our good fortune to actually be there. I was still pinching myself that I actually got a ticket!

The mass itself was beautiful. The choir was divine and all the responses and hymns were in Latin with Gregorian Chant notation (which I think I've said before that I took lesson in with other close friends) so I was able to sing along! The service was in Latin and occasionally other languages were thrown in, so for the majority of the service, I couldn't understand what was being said. However, my 21 years of going to mass helped out a lot! I am looking forward to reading a translation of the Pope's homily – he always speaks superbly. Although it was a long service, over 2 hours, it did not feel like it at all. I was perfect happiness the entire time – this was such a dream come true for me and it turned out so much better than I had hoped.

I certainly wasn't planning on meeting such great people while waiting. In fact, we had a group photo, exchanged contact details and tomorrow we are all meeting again for Christmas lunch!! Again, this is far more than I had hoped for. I was planning on spending Christmas day alone, so I am so happy that it turned out this way.

That being said, I really must get some sleep, so I'll sign off for now. I'll post later about my amazing trip to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel earlier on today. I hope everyone's Christmas has turned out as well as mine has!



Friday, December 24, 2010

All Roads Lead To...

I had a quiet morning yesterday and in the afternoon made my way to the airport for my flight from Vienna to Rome. When I arrived at Fiumicino airport in Rome, there was a driver waiting for me from my hotel. The hotel offers a free pick up service from the airport and I must admit it was really, really nice just being able to get in a car and be taken to where I needed to be – no catching trains, no trying to follow directions ad no hassle. I really must be waited on more often!

As to the hotel itself, let's just say that the photographer obviously used a room-widening lens when he took the shots of the single room I am in. It's far smaller than the room I stayed in in Prague, and unfortunately not nearly as hotel like. Kind of ironic! For instance, I realised that I have to pay for use of the internet – which I think is a bit rich given most hostels have free wireless access and I am paying a lot more than I would if I were at a hostel. I hope it's not too expensive (I am writing this currently in Microsoft Word and will copy and paste it to the blog so I have yet to find out how much it will be). Also, there is a bidet in the bathroom! I'm sure as hell not using it (sorry my Italian friends – our conversation in Tasmania has scarred me for life:)

This morning I spoke to Mum, Dad and my younger brother which was fantastic – I won't have another chance before Christmas so I wanted to have a chat. It's my first Christmas away from home – sniff! I also finished my book, Middlemarch, last night. I was sad to have it end – I always get attached to characters! I shall have to find another book now – though I don't know if my chances of finding a novel in English over here are that high.

The good thing about this hotel is that it is right near the Vatican City (in fact you can see the Dome of St Peter from the hotel restaurant), so this morning, after calling mum and dad, I went exploring.
I looked up the weather forecast for today and it was 17 degrees! No snow, no fog – just a bit of wind and would you believe it, sunshine!! That's the first sunshine I've seen for a while (and that's including the last few days in Melbourne would you believe). Having been walking around in temperatures of around -5 degrees in central Europe, it felt like summer when I went outside today! It made me laugh to see people walking around in jackets and scarves and saying 'e freddo!!' (it's cold!) I suppose it's all relative.

After a quick lunch (for which I think I paid for the luxury of sitting down in the cafe rather than for the quality of the food!) I headed up to St Peter's Square. I came around from the side, so it wasn't until I was actually walking through the columns to the side and turned a corner that it actually came into view. And I must say, buildings don't usually inspire an emotional feeling in me so I was surprised at my reaction to being in the square. I just couldn't stop smiling and giggling in sheer delight. It sounds like of totally uncool I know and generally I would think that such a place would inspire a more sedate reaction of wonder (that happened once I got inside) but it was absolute excitement that dictated my reaction – St Peter's!! And at Christmas! And the sun is out!

I spent a good 30-40 mins just walking around the square, basking in its greatness and the amazing feeling of actually physically being there. Then I went inside. At this point I must say that the decoration of some of the churches I've seen in the past few weeks can look as though the architects have tried to cram as much opulence into a tiny as space as they can and can therefore look quite crowded. Not St Peter's. The decoration is definitely extravagant, but (to me at least) nothing seems out of place. Every statue and marble tile is balanced out perfectly. And St Peter's is lucky that it is in Rome in that it is not so dark as further up north in Europe, so it gets wonderful natural light.

A lot of seats were set up, presumably in time for the Christmas mass and most people were there to take photos and generally look around, so at first I wondered where one went to actually pray in St Peter's. However they did have a separate chapel on the side curtained off where one could go to pray. It was very quiet in there and mostly contained nuns and priests.

This brings me to make a certain gripe about cameras. Photos are fantastic to look at for memories and I also can appreciate a well taken photo. But I just can't fathom why some people go to places of beauty and look at them only through a lens. Time and time again I have seen tourists at various sites walk around, taking photos of absolutely everything, but never stopping to actually see with their own eyes. How can looking at them later on your computer or in an album possibly beat appreciating the real thing while you are there? That's not to say don't take photos (and I certainly do!) but this act of walking around with a camera or video camera glued to one's eye is ridiculous!

After that little rant, here are some shot I took. Believe me, I didn't take that many in comparison to others!







After doing the loop a few times I went to the museum of various treasures that the Vatican has been given or collected through the ages. Wow, there are some truly amazing pieces there. I think my personal favourite has to be the chest that holds the skull of St Sebastian (who was martyred by being shot with many arrows). Or if not that, then the cross that holds parts of the True Cross (that Jesus was crucified on). Some of the objects come from as far back as Emperor Constantine!

By the time I came out of the museum it was past 5 o'clock and the sun had gone down, so I grabbed something to eat and then have come back to the hotel. I now need to do my research as to what happens for Christmas Eve mass at the square – I've heard that tickets are notoriously difficult to get for inside the church. I tried a few months back but was unable to get any, so I will be outside in St Peter's along with thousands of others I suppose. The weather forecast is for a thunderstorm so I really hope that is wrong! In any case, given the popularity for Christmas Eve mass at St Peter's square, tomorrow I'll have to stock up on supplies and be ready to wait for a while out there I imagine! If I see a group of Australians I'll try to weedle in there!

I'm checking my world clock and can see that it's early Christmas Eve morning in Australia. I may not be able to get on to the computer again for a while, so I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!
Being overseas, away from family and friends at this time of year, has certainly been very hard and I miss everyone horribly. However, if I was to spend a Christmas away, then St Peter's is the place I would choose! I hope your Christmas is as blessed as mine. And mum and dad, save me some presents! ;-)

 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A little reflection

Just a really quick post of something I forgot to mention earlier. All my learning about the history of the Hapsburgs and the formalities of the court and various hierarchies of propriety has really struck me - how often we seek to better our own positions with thoughts gaining disctinction through a better reputation or riches! I know I am certianly guilty of such thoughts at times.

Anyway, there is a movie that shows this kind of man-made hierarchy very well. It's called Gosford Park (released in 2001), and it is set in the early 1930s. The whole movie is fantastic but there is a particularly memorable scene where as the lords and ladies sit down to their dinner party on the upper level of the manor, the maids and servants sit down also to their dinner on the lower levels. And no where is the seating arrangement so important as the servants' quarters - everyone must sit according to the level of distinction of their master or mistress. This kind of forceful reminder of one's position at the table (and hence society) has nothing to do with economic class but the much more important idea of 'nobility'. The movie goes on to portray the devastation that such ideas of proper place can have on people's lives.

Definitely a movie to rent out if you haven't yet seen it and have some time over the Christmas break!

Butterflies!

Today I decided to do something new so I went to the Butterfly House! It's actually kind of attached to the Imperial Palaces and the museums, though I am not sure how old it is. Who knows, perhaps the Hapsburgs got sick of balls and had butterfly parties now and then?

I haven't been to a buttergly house since I was about 10 I think so it was quite nice to re-live my youth (well younger youth I suppose!). It was also a perfect day to go because just as yesterday the weather was clear and beautiful, today it was damp and cold - a fog hung over the city all day making it rather grey. It made the city look like the perfect setting for some kind of 19th century gothic novel!

It was really nice to spend some time in the tropical warmth and be surrounded by greenery. I had forgotten how relaxed being around trees and flowers makes me. And there were butterflies fluttering around everywhere, reducing even grown men to exclamations of "oh, how sweet they are!" (Except they said "Super! Sie sind alle so suss!") Who says German and Austrian men aren't sensitive new age guys?!

I've included a few shots - I admit I got a bit trigger-happy. I love taking photos of nature. Those are gold fish in the pond in pciture 3.








Due to the weather and it making it difficult to see much I went back to the hostel this afternoon to do some preparation for Italy - I needed to book some more hostels and decide what I want to see when I'm there. I discovered that Italian hostels are super-expensive. So I ended up just going for 2-3 star hotels that were the same price, if not cheaper, and I get my own room! However, I am readily finding that the original budget I had planned for this trip is not going to be enough. Luckily, I have extra savings - but when I get home I'll be nice and poor and living on my parents' charity - thanks Mum and Dad!

Tomorrow evening it's off to Rome - 3 weeks in Italy. After living with an Italian for most of the year and having lots of Italian friends, I am super excited to see their country and find out more about their culture!

And just lastly - there was a bit of scandal in the hostel room last night. The two American girls I mentioned last post ended up having one pretty big night and in fact this morning when we got up, there was a boy in our room (this is an all girl room) and a few of the other girls were not impressed at all and told the receptionist, who came in the room and threw him out!! Quite a bit of excitement to start the day off with :) One of the girls lay in her bed groaning "The pain! My head hurts! Why did I drink so much?" Can't say she got too much pity from the rest of us!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Hapsburg Palace (sorry if this sounds like a history lesson!)

Today was a good day! For starters, I had the whole 8 bed hostel room to myself last night so I got the best night's sleep and then this morning awoke to a simply stunning day. The sky was blue and it was not nearly as cold as it has been the past few days. So, despite my original plans to have a quiet one - I ventured out!

Today I spent the day at the Imperial Palace of the Hapsburgs of the Austrian empire. The history of the Hapsburgs was not one that I was familiar with before coming to Europe but it really is a fascinating one, full of interesting people.

The palace complex is very large - I've learnt in the past few weeks the palaces were not just castles, but really more like mini-towns. In Vienna, the huge Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum are part of this complex that also has many squares and platzes. Today was a perfect day to explore it, as I could actually see into the distance, rather then there being a snowy haze!! Plus it was far easier to stand being outside than the last few days.

The ticket that I bought allowed me access to the museum that houses the collections of many of the objects used in banquets - table settings, cultery, crockery and linen. That doesn't really sound very interesting but then, this is no ordinary dinnerware. The size of all the different collections and their sheer opulence is mind-blowing. Sometimes certain sets couldn't even be used for their purpose beacuse they were too precious or fragile. However, most of the sometimes seventeen courses at dinner were served on silver or gold plates. Everything had the stamp of the official royal coat of arms.

I also saw the Imperial Quarters of Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph I. These were also incredible, though it was touching to see the personal effects they put on their quarters - for instance, the Emperor, surrounded by such splendor, actually kept quite modest quarters and had few indulgences. Of such indulgence was to decorate his private office where he did most of his work with large paintings of his wife and children. And when I say large I mean huge - and right in front of his desk! He loved his wife dearly and was heartbroken when she was assasinated in 1898.

The third place I got to see and the one that struck me the most was a museum set up in honour of Empress Elisabeth. She was a most intriguing woman who, sadly, never warmed to her title as Empress and seems to have been, personality-wise, very much unsuited to such a public office. If you have a chance, I thoroughly recommend reading something on her life - it was actually quite tragic. She had a happy and blessed childhood with her family in Bavaria, away from the pomp of the imperial courts, but was betrothed to her cousin Franz Joseph at the age of 15 after going with her mother and sister to Vienna. Her older sister was actually intended for Franz Joseph but he fell in love with Elisabeth instead.

When told of his intention to marry her, she apparently burst into tears and as the time came for her to leave her town and enter the society in Vienna, she grew more melancholy. Perhaps today's doctors would diagnose her with depression; I don't know. But she certainly, in her writing and increasing withdrawal from public life, gave much attention to her own unhappy circumstance, as she saw it. She is also said to have suffered from anorexia (though it was not recognised as such in her day) and gave much attention to her own physical appearance. She took to travelling a lot, away from her family and Vienna to try and find her elusive freedom and wrote bitterly in her diaries of the life that had been thrust upon her.

She was assasinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist in Geneva when she was taking a trip there - her assasin had been planning to kill another aristocrat in Geneve, but when he changed his plans at the last moment and Elisabeth was reported to be in Geneva, he took his chance and stabbed her in public with a small blade to the heart and knocking her to the ground. Apparently she did not realise she had been stabbed and got up and went to her hotel, where she collapsed and died.

It was quite sad to learn about this woman and see her personal belongings - they really were stunning she herself was beautiful, but her inner struggle with her freedom that she saw was taken away from her in becoming Empress and her sadness also with the death of her oldest child at the age of 2 and suicide of her only son at 30, made it a tough history lesson. I felt, as I was coming out of the museum, like I did when I finished Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

I spent more time at the palaces than I usually do at museums and was surprised - I usually have a tolerance of a few hours before I find myself either overawed or tired out by what is around me. However, this time I felt, more than any other, that the palace came to life as I learned about his history. I could almost hear the music as I walked into the grand hall that was for dance parties and the chink of knives against plates at the dinner parties. And as I walked outside, through all the royal streets, the clatter of horses could be heard (for real) as there are many horse-drawn carriages giving rides to tourists. It really was like stepping back through time.

Unfortunately I don't have many photos of today - cameras weren't allowed inside the palace. I have put a few professional ones in of the palace to show what it is like.






This afternoon, being a Monday, the town centre was much less busy so I was able to get around with much more ease than the past few days - it made it infintely more enjoyable also!

This evening I spent some time with some American girls who are from Chicago and studying in Italy and Spain (everyone I meet seem to have such exotic lives!) It's really nice being able to chat to easily to people you just meet - they have a big night planned with some friends in Vienna so there was much talk of 'how will I most easily and least expensively get drunk?' Hmmm, some things are the same wherever you go!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A little observation

I forgot to add this to the last post but I've noticed in Vienna that it seems to be a popular spot for a lot of Europeans for the Christmas vacation. I noticed that it was so busy compared to a lot of the other European cities I'd been to so did a bit of research and found that indeed a lot of Europeans come here for their holidays.

Aparently many Europeans go to skiing in the mountain regions of Austria (I remember my cousin in Holland saying that her family did this around Christmas time each year).

Anyway, what I found interesting was that when I first arrived and went out walking that first night, I noticed that so many shops were selling really expsensive wares - lots of jewellery and brand name clothing, and I figured I must just be in a upmarket area. But then I went into the main part of the city and what I had orginally seen was cheap compared to what was on offer here! Every shop is either a Gucci store or Prada or many others I've never heard of but look very exclusive (they are probably all very famous stores but I know as much about the different brands as I do about the Madagascan economy). And I noticed that here more than anywhere else, people are dressed to the nines. So many women are in fur coats and the men in tailored suits. They certainly look very glamorous!! And then when I did a bit of research I found that rich people from all over Europe come to Vienna specifically to do their shopping for the weekend then go back to their Chateus in the south of France or Switzerland.

I didn't have the guts to go into the stores that looked expensive (and that was about 90% of them) but the souvenier shops for instance were astronomically expensive too! Like, a tacky magnet saying 'Vienna' was over 10 euros or a cheap looking cherub sitting on a doll of Mozart was around 50 euros.

So, really all this is the long way of saying that no one is getting any presents from Vienna :)

Success!

Today I finally found a nice cafe where I could sit and relax in the warmth with my book and a pretty good coffee. In the past 3 weeks I have seen many amazing and beautiful things, but sometimes nothing quite compares to the harmonious hours spent in a cafe.

I confess that I was not really in a good mood this morning when I woke up - I know I complain about the hostel room but seriously, last night one girl decides at 1am that now is the time to go through all her bags and sort through every kind of plastic and paper bag and repeatedly drop her suitcase. I think I may have said something but to be honest I can't be sure - I was a little delirious by that point. Maybe it was someone else!

Anyway, this being a Sunday I went to mass this morning - the high mass at St Stephen's Cathedral in the centre of Vienna - it's being renovated at the moment so there's scaffolding all around it, except (and this made me laugh) they have wrapped the Cathedral in plastic that has a photo of what the Cathedral would look like if the plastic were not there. They're conscientious, the Viennese - I'll give them that!




The Cathedral was packed which was heartening to see. The mass was entirely in German but I know the procedure of the liturgy well enough to say the responses in English - and I've found a lot of German is coming back to me from high school.

The Cathedral is once again very impressive - it's often hard to know where to look when you step into such magnificent buildings - and when Catholics churches are ornate, they are extremely ornate! I love how I can sit there for long periods of time, just looking. If you pay close enough attention, you can see that there is a story to the architecture - in fact, I think for the first time I am truly understanding the beauty in buildings - they are like poems in that everything in them is there for a reason.

After mass I was really hungry and didn't even bother to go searching for somewhere nice to eat and headed straight to McDonalds and ate a hamburger. Before I left Australia for Europe I hadn't eaten McDonalds for months, perhaps even a year or two. Now it seems like I'm going every few days, dammit! When I get back it's vegetables in every meal! Because it was early I managed to beat the lunch rush and scored a table.

Oh, and now I must humbly admit that it is extremely cold here. Not until now have I thought Europe cold but man, Vienna is absolutely freezing. It's so cold that after 1 minute being outside my ears and nose hurt like crazy and my hands throb! I'll admit it takes the fun out of sight-seeing when you're gasping because the air is so cold when you breathe! I found myself going into every store I could to get 5 minutes of warmth, then ducking back out again.

I had heard that Peterskirche (St Peter's Church) was definitely a highlight of Vienna and as it was a Sunday I thought I'd get in 2 visits to church :) This church was much smaller but actually far more ornate than St Stephens. It had a beautiful atmosphere and is actually an Opus Dei chruch so there was a section dedicted to St Josemaria Escriva. We were allowed to take photos in this church and as there were no postcards to purchase of the really good bits, I took a few shots.



The high Altar


Looking towards the back of the Church - you can see the organ.


An altar to St Michael the Archangel - the grey part at the bottom of the shot is actually the bones of a martyr killed during the Middle Ages in Rome, brought back to the Church.

After this I felt sooo ready for a coffee and would you believe that after only 15 mins of walking I found a really nice cafe! It was not busy at all, and given that it was right next to a Starbucks where it was impossible to get in, I was happy to chose the former one. Oh, I cannot express the bliss of being able to sit in the warmth and read Middlemarch!! I really am loving it now - I'm past halfway and at this rate will have it finished in the next week I think. I will have to find an English bookshop in Rome and buy another classic!!

After a few hours and 2 coffees I made my way back to the hostel. To be honest, this morning I had planned to go to the Fine Arts Museum (which is opposite the Natural History Museum) but I felt a little museumed out today and I imagine it would have been packed with the weather being so cold. Tomorrow most of the city attractions are closed (apparently Monday is the day of rest!) so I think I will perhaps go to a Christmas market and stick around the warmth of the hostel.

Lastly, here's a few shots of the area around St Stephen's Cathedral - it's the trendy area.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dear Santa - this Christmas I'd like a pony...

As predicted, it was a hot night last night and being in an 8 person room, it meant that people kept coming in during the evening to bed as they pleased so the lights didn't go out until after midnight. It's not that late I know, but when people again turn on the light at 6am to get their stuff to leave for trains and airports it doesn't leave much time for uninterrupted sleep! Oh, and did I mention the snoring? Sigh – I asked for this – it all comes with back-packing!

Anyway, it was lucky in the end that I was up early this morning as last night I had planned out my days here in Vienna and forgot that my tickets to the Spanish Riding School performance were for this morning, not this evening. So when I realised my mistake, I got ready super-fast and headed down to the main part of Vienna, where the Riding School is part of the Imperial Palace. When you see the Riding School you'll understand why it is part of the palace – the place itself is like a castle. So, so beautiful!!

The Spanish Riding School is world renowned and has been for the past 300 years or so, since it was set up Emperor Charles VI and continued by his daughter, Maria Theresa. Walking into the performance hall I had the feeling (which I've had a few times while travelling) that I was certainly not dressed for such a beautiful venue. When I see these places I always feel like I should be dressed as women used to – glamorous and feminine. Instead I'm in a puffy jacket, beanie, trousers and walking shoes. Mind you, I look like a lot of other people – very few get dressed up for the different performances I've been to. Anyway, it's been a lesson in me getting over myself, but at the same time I feel a certain pining for the days gone by when there was a sense of glamour in fashion.

The Peformace Hall




Moving on, the performance was simply breathtaking. Apart from the beauty of the horses themselves, watching what they can do is such a treat. We're talking years worth of training here and they fly through the air. The only way I can describe it is like watching the ballet. You watch the dancers, entranced by what they can do with their bodies and the magnificent way in which they do it. It was the same with the horses – they leap, they dance, they fly – everything about them is beautiful... and then they crap all over the arena floor just to remind you that yes they are animals, not heavenly beings :)

If anyone is ever in Vienna, do not miss this performance – it is totally worth it! 


The horsies at rest after their big performance, and the stables' cat!





After the performance I was pretty hungry and feeling a little cold so I went looking for somewhere warm to get a bite to eat. And I gotta say, this is where Vienna let me down. I went searching... and searching and even more searching but the only places I found in an hour of walking were either a)McDonalds – which were all so packed that I couldn't get inside b)Starbucks - which were busier than the McDonalds and are again really expensive and c)really exclusive places that have men at the door to take your hand and lead you in. I've said it once and I'll say it again – where the hell are all the cafes?? Everyone knows its going to be cold outside so why aren't there more places to go inside and relax?

After an hour feeling very peeved at not finding anything, I gave up trying to be cultured and found a McDonalds that wasn't as crowded as the rest and pushed my way through the crowds to get a hot chocolate and shared a table with 3 Viennese kids.

I should say at this point that I really, really don't like crowds. I don't feel unsafe or worried in them, but I hate them because all manners really just go down the drain. I noticed this in Berlin too, but it is especially pronounced here, that no one will give way to you nor will they give any acknowledgement or thanks to to you if you do. So I started off the day making way for old ladies and parents with children and after about 2 hours of getting pushed around because of it, I gave up. It must just not be a thing of politeness over here to give way or of impoliteness to push in front quite forcibly. So I've decided that while I'm here I'll be more like the locals - while old people still get my deference, anyone under the age of 60 can bloody well wait for me. I can be like a brick wall if I want to be.

I stopped in to St Michael's Church, which is right near the Spanish Riding School as I was in need of some tranquillity and I've learned that in Europe (like Australia) if you want to go somewhere where it is quiet and no one around, go into a church. As I had hoped (for my own selfish reasons of course; I'd love it if it were full too!) it was practically empty. It is one of the purest examples in Vienna of Baroque architecture so though it is quite small, it is very beautiful with a lot of history behind it.

Speaking of history, I was very excited to see that just outside the church in Michelsplatz, there are ancient Roman fortifications going down a long way. These are from around 180 AD – the Emperor Marcus Aurelius died here in Vienna in that year.

The photo doesn't look much but you should see how far down they go!!



By now it was about 2.30pm and the light was already fading so I went to the Natural History Museum. Half of the fun of going to these places is seeing the actual buildings that house the collections – they are all palaces themselves! And it was nice to learn about history from a more scientific and biological sense rather than the cultural aspects I've been seeing lately.

Some photos of the museum - inside and out.




The museum was full of kids, which I should have realised would be – what do parents do with children on a cold wet day? Take them to a warm public place like a museum! It was ok – at least they want to learn and see things – there was a group of German emos who bagged out everything in the museum as being “totally unoriginal” who made me want to turn a hose on them so their mascara would run.

The animal collection there is impressive – the wild cats were my favourite. And the halls of meteorite were pretty cool – it reminded me of the fantasy write Terry Pratchett who had a sword made out of meteorites – how awesome!

As I was leaving the museum there was a Christmas market in the garden at the front – it was really nice but totally packed so I didn't try to have a thorough look at the wares – I'll wait until the working week starts and it's less crowded.

The Market in the afternoon.



And I think I have discovered how people eat cheaply here – it's all in the vendors on the street. Now in Australia I would never buy anything from a van on the street – but here it's how its done and its either kebabs or Bratwurst (and they are bloody good!) Give that I can't afford to eat at the restaurants here and I don't want to do my own 'Supersize Me' with McDonalds, it looks like that's going to be how I do dinner for the next week. Mind you, there go my hopes of returning home as a slimmer Christina – sigh.

Just one last little thing I've noticed here – the Viennese are crazy committed to recycling. They have 5 different kinds of recycling bins! I wanted to throw out my coffee cup and stood I front of the dammed bins for about 5 mins trying to figure out which one to use. In the end I just chose one and said a prayer for the baby seal I probably just killed with my act of environmental sin.