In Catalonia – enyoing the mild late autumn days in Hospitalet de l’Infant

On October 28th 2016 we arrive in Hospitalet de l’Infant and settle in the small apartment of our friends. We enjoy the balcony – the weather is still warm enough for that.

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The late autumn days here are mild (around 20 degrees and more) and some people (most of them retired) populate the beach.

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However, the small bars have been dismounted and the slide-boats are now hidden in this backyard waiting for the next summer.

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The offerings of the Sunday market have changed: Now we can buy warm sweaters and socks – in summer it was bathing suits and light blouses.

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The late afternoon sun produces long shades on the beach.

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The waves play gently with the sand.

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The clouds remind me of our southwind clouds from the Alps, called “Föhn”. Actually it is a similar phenomena: The wind comes from the north west descending from the mountains behind our coast line and clearing up the sky.

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In the morning, Ursula captures the rising sun above the Mediterranean Sea.

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Later during our stay, the north west wind is blowing heftily, and I prefer to do my swimming in the large public swimming pool that is open until ten at night. Hospitalet seems to be a wealthy small town: They provide these piscines municipals with attached fitness center and in addition a public library, where we as “simple” tourists can rent out books for free.

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In 1306 the Infant Peter of Arragon and Anjou built the hospital of Hospitalet near the pass of Balaguer where the Via Augusta crosses the hills towards Tortosa and the Ebro valley.

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The hospital was in use for several centuries. It was destroyed several times, the final and last time by a storm in 1910. One highlight was the visit of Elizabeth Fox, a noble lady from England, that stayed here overnight around 1800. The museum tells her story with much humor.

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The shops are open – bakeries have fresh bread, Jordi offers fresh fish from l’Amettla, the grocery shop has delicious fruit and vegetables, the Chinese shop has all we need to complete our small household, the electrician shop repairs our broken vacuum cleaner in two days (and how proud the electrician is of that!), the mercer has everything you may need for sewing, the arts shop frames our pictures and fotos (to decorate our small apartment), the sports shop sells bathing suits… and this shop sells “Fisch Fang Wurmer” or worms for fishing (it is open on weekdays – I am just not sure, how happy the worms will be when used to fang fish).

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We have all we need for our two weeks’ vacation – and while enjoying that, we also undertake many excursions into the surroundings of Hospitalet de l’Infant. There is so much to discover in Catalonia.

On the way to Spain – second stop in charming Collioure

We are on our way to Spain again in October 2016. We first stopped in Le Puy en Velay, the gorgeous pilgrim town perched on basalt needles. We stopped a second time in charming Collioure near the French border with Spain, in the Languedoc-Roussillon.

We drive south through the hills of the Auvergne – huge bridges swing over the valleys – always a great scenery. Then the highway winds down. Cypresses and pine trees are welcoming us. The rain has stopped, the sun shines. The temperatures are warmer and my jeans are too hot. We arrive in the Mediterranean climate.

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Our hotel of charm, Casa Païral, tucked away in a tiny dead street

In Collioure we now have selected a hotel of charm and “Relais de Silence”, the Casa Païral. Indeed, after several turns we find it tucked away in the tiny dead end street Rue du Pasteur. I enter with our car and stop in front of the gate. After having unloaded our luggage, I have to leave this narrow dead end street backwards – I had beads of perspiration on my forehead.

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The hotel is quite a contrast to the sober IBIS hotel from last night. We immediately feel at home.

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Charming Collioure at night

It is already late. We stroll along the harbour. The fortified church “Eglise Notre Dames des Anges” has been built by Vauban in the 17th century, when he planned to change Collioure into a garnison town (as this region has become part of the French empire in the 17th century). The clock tower looks like a light house.

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There are quite a few restaurants at this central square. We have fish at Casa Leon. We love sea fish, when we are close to the sea.

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Collioure inspired the fauvism artists in 1905

On an early morning walk we follow the tracks of Henri Matisse and André Derain. They came to Collioure in 1905 to paint fauvism art.

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Fauvism art gives priority to the color that creates the visual impression of the painting.

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We gather some memories in the narrow streets of Collioure. Colorfully painted houses,…

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… flowers all over,…

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… and a great view of the Mediterranean Sea with the small chapel on the small island St. Vicent.

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Once again we look back to the harbour that the waves play with.

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Farther south to Spain

We say good-bye to Collioure and drive south following the sinuous street along the Côte de Vermeille.

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We enter Spain, follow the coast for some more time and then turn towards Barcelona and Hospitalet del’Infant.

 

On the road to Spain – first stop in gorgeous Le Puy en Velay in France

It is end of October 2016. With Ursula I load my car once more and we head off to Spain, with stop overs in France: First stop in Le Puy en Velay in the Haute-Loire and second stop in Collioure near the border with Spain.

Let me start with Le Puy en Velay. To stop here was Ursula’s idea. She promised a pilgrimage town perched on three basalt needles and a Unesco World Heritage. I am curious and agree.

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Our hotel IBIS in Le Puy en Velay – very functional and easy to find 

The weather is rainy and chilly. We do not feel like searching for a hotel and take the IBIS hotel that comes up on our side of the main street, just where the old city centre starts. IBIS is a sober and practical French invention. We park our car in a locked garage and then move into a small room with two excellent beds (recently renovated). In the morning, we find a self service breakfast “fridge” with a self service Zumex machine that produces fresh orange juice. The coffee machine makes excellent coffee. All very convenient.

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Discovering Le Puy en Velay – evening walk to the old town with the cathedral overlooking it

In the dizzling rain we slender through the charming old town.

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The houses are partially made from basalt stones. The cat is a perfect match.

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Le Puy en Velay is famous for its green lentils, black sheep (agneau noir du Velay), Verveine liqueur and lace making (dentelles de Puy).

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To reach the main gate of the Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy en Velay, pilgrims have to walk up this cobbled narrow street.

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The gate receives the pilgrims like the womb of a mother. From here they look back to the town and the surrounding hills.

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The cathedral is Romanesque from the 11/12th century. The main nave is topped with three octogonal cupolas, supported by additional arches.

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The Black Madonna sits in the choir. She is venerated here. The black head in the middle of her coat is Jesus looking out.

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When Annunciation falls on Good Friday, the Jubilee of Le Puy en Velay is celebrated. Last time in 2016, next time in 2157.

St. James welcomes the pilgrims. His hat is adorned with a conch.

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We round off the evening with green lentils from Le Puy en Velay. I try a glass of the famous Verveine liqueur of Le Puy en Velay – it tastes a bit like medicine to me.

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Morning excursion to the famous cloister of the Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy en Velay

The next morning we visit the famous cloister of the Cathedral.

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The columns are decorated with beautiful capitals. I particularly like the pigeons.

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In the chapel of the cloister we find this representation of the crucification from 1200.

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Then we look back and say good-bye to Le Puy en Velay.

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We now drive south to Collioure in the Languedoc-Roussillon near the border of France with Spain.

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In Kraków – back again for a short visit and a Fondue with friends / II

At the start of December (2016), I was back in Kraków for a short visit. After my Friday sightseeing and Sushi with Radek, I now spend Saturday with some more sightseeing, some shopping and the Fondue evening with friends.

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Visiting the Muzeum Narodowe with an exhibition of Rodin and Dunikowski

I enter the National Museum in the Szołayski House to learn more about Wispiansky, the multitalent of Kraków in the beginning of the twentieth century. I am told that the exhibition is closed for renovation. Instead I see the juxtaposing of sculptures from Rodin and Dunikowski. The exhibition is called “visions of women”. I learn that Dunikowski admired Rodin, that he is one of the most renowned Polish artists of the 20th century and that he has survived Auschwitz. I like his powerful sculptures.

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The Szołayski House with its decorated walls is worth a visit in itself.

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Shopping at Tatuum

Tatuum is a small shop on the Rynek. I see a warm padded coat in blue color in the window, enter and leave the shop again with the padded coat, three sweaters, a pair of trousers and a knitted dress. I love to go shopping in Krakow – and it is less expensive than in Switzerland.

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Young choirs singing in the Peter and Paul Church

The Peter and Paul Church has always surprised me. Today I observe a group of girls singing and entering the church through the backdoor. Something must go on inside. I enter. The church is full. Entry is free. And one choir after the next is singing. It is the Advent and Christmas Choir Festival that lasts from December 2nd to 24th.

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I stay for a while and listen to the beautiful young voices.

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Taco: Mexican dishes prepared and served by Poles

Just next door to my hotel Wawel we have a late lunch in the Taco that serves Mexican food. I order an Aztec Soup (they call it “Taco soup” here) and a home made drink made from elder. Though the personnel is entirely Polish, my soup is pretty authentic and tasty.

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Dry wine needed – Wina Szlachetne

For the Fondue tonight, we need some more dry wine. The shop of Maryla Piskorska, Wina Szlachetne  or “Noble Wines” is always a great place for buying wine. We are in the “rue de la soif” (street of thirst), as the plate says.

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For our Fondue, we select a dry Sylvaner from Rheinhessen. Maryla Piskorska has started to offer wine from the Georgian republic made in amphores. I am curious about this wine, but I cannot take it from here in my hand luggage.

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The fondue evening – always a challenge and a great pleasure

At Dominik’s place I take a large saucepan to prepare the fondue (for lack of a caquelon). When my fondue is ready, Radek refuses to come, because he is playing football with the son of the house. I insist that the fondue has to be eaten immediately – everyone to the table, please. We dip our bread cubes. The stove we use to keep the fondue warm is designed for chocolate fondue and is to weak for cheese fondue. I have to heat up our cheese fondue several times, as it started to disintegrate. We had a great time, thank you Dominik for inviting us to your home. Back in Basel I bought a good cheese fondue stove that I will take with me in 2017 to ease fondue cooking and eating in Kraków.

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It is a sunny Sunday – and I say good-bye to Kraków

After having met some more friends on Sunday morning, I quickly visit the Rynek (market square) to say good-bye. The sky is deeply blue today and contrasts with the red bricks of St. Mary’s Church.

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With EasyJet the flight home to Basel takes something more than an hour. And already for dinner I find myself at the table of my neighbors enjoying a delicious Risotto.

 

In Kraków – back again for a short visit and a Fondue with friends

Also this year I am flying to Kraków, just for two days. I want to see my friends and share a cheese fondue with them. I also intend to visit some of my favorite places.

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Friday morning – 4 am – this IS early

The alarm clock wakes me up at 4am. This IS early. The taxi driver talks about the philosophy of the Dervishes and about how much he wished tolerance between religions in this world – he is from Konya. I agree with him.

Shortly after 9 am my plane lands in Kraków airport. The new airport is now in use – there is much space and all is modern. Perhaps Berlin should come and learn from the Krakówians, how to complete building an airport… An hour later I am already in the city center.

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The yoghurt with nuts and honey in the Magia Coffee Bar strengthens me

The Magia is one of my favorite coffee bars in Kraków. The internet welcomes me immediately. I am hungry and order the yoghurt with nuts and honey – delicious as always. I feel better after my early flight.

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The Christmas market on the Rynek

The Christmas market is busy. The Krakówians have set up a colorful Christmas tree in front of St. Mary’s cathedral.

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The weather must have been very windy – some of the angels are hanging heads down.

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I stroll amidst tourists. The dragon or smok of Kraków is omnipresent, in all colors. I did not know that dragons can be black and pink and even purple as well… are dragons not green “in reality”?

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It is chilly and I take a Zurek (a sour rye flour soup) to warm me up.

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Saying hello to some of my favorite places in Stare Miasto

I enter St. Mary’s Church for a short moment of reflection, slender through the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall from Renaissance times) and sadly look at the tower that remained from the old 14th century townhall (Ferdinand of Vienna and Habsburg, why did you destroy this town hall in 1820?). I move on to the old university of 1364 (Collegium Maius). Then I stop in the solemnity of the gothic Franciscan church and admire the gorgeous modern art window “Become” by Wyspianski.

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The baroque Peter and Paul Church is being renovated. There is a youth choir festival in Kraków and young groups are singing in this church.

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The romanesque Saint Andrews Church is next to St. Peter and Paul’s church.

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Continuing to Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter

Walking by the Wawel castle I enter Kazimierz, the former Jewish city. I reflect woefully what I had read in my faithful guide book, when eating my yoghurt with nuts this morning: Former Kraków was a tolerant city. Christians (from catholic and orthodox belief), Muslims and Jews lived together peacefully, and later, also protestants joined. Poland guaranteed the freedom of belief in 1573 (Source: M. Niedzielska and Jan Szurmant:”Krakau”, Michael Müller Verlag 2011). Then in 1697, a hundred years later, August the Strong from Saxony converted to catholism, when he was elected king of Poland. Today we perceive Poland as being a Roman catholic country. And here in Kazimierz I am reminded of what has happened to the Jewish community in the 1930s and 1940s. I always feel guilty for that.

Today, I discover Jewish life again: The Kupa Synagogue has been reopened, and visitors are invited. I have never been in a synagogue before and enter respectfully.

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This is the view from the second floor where the women pray.

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There is a photo exhibition here. I am impressd by this statement:

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I wish we would find back to tolerance –  as wished my taxi driver from Konya early this morning. Happily I say good-bye to this small synagogue that I hope will be another sustainable start for tolerance, not only in Poland, but also in this world. And I do hope that especially Poland might find back to its earlier roots, when people with various religions and from various countries lived together here. And when it was a center of European culture and education.

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Tea in the Czajowina and a walk along the Wisla

It is chilly and I need to warm up again. I have an Assam tea in the cosy Czajowina in Józefa street. There are so many cosy coffee and tea places in Kraków and this is one of my favorite.

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At four pm it is already dark. I walk down to the Wisla and follow it. The white Stanislaus church on the rock shines in the dark.

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I walk around the Wawel hill to catch up with Kanonicza street. This morning I had also learnt that the last years of the golden age of Kraków happened during Renaissance and that king Sigismund I had taken his wife from the Sforza family in Milano. She hired Italian architects and consequently the Kanonicza street with its Renaissance palaces could be located in Italy, but no, we are in Kraków right now.

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The history of towns is present in their architecture, and I always discover more of the history of Kraków, when I return.

With Radek, I close the day in the Sushi restaurant Zen near the Rynek. We have not seen one another for a year, there is a lot to chat. I look forward to another day in Kraków and our fondue evening.

 

 

To the north of Vienna – Grinzing, Altenberg and Neuburg

It is a rainy October day in and around Vienna. Our friends take the car out of the narrow, narrow garage and drive north of Vienna to the hills of the Wienerwald and the wetlands of the Danube.

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Grinzing – THE tourist place for Heurigen

This is a quick impression of Grinzing located north of Vienna. It is THE tourist place for “Heurigen” (taverns that serve new wine). The Trummelhof is their most traditional tavern – its roots go back to the times of the House of Babenberg around 1150.

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Altenberg and the wetlands of the Danube – the home of excellent scientists

We continue our way to Altenberg where my friends have family roots. They were neighbors of Konrad Lorenz that here, in the wetlands of the Danube, studied geese, crows and dogs (he owned a mixture of chow and shepherd). My gift drawer always contains his book “So kam der Mensch auf den Hund” (“Man meets Dog”). Another of their neighbors was Karl Popper – his thoughts about conjectures and refutations (Verifikation und Falsifikation) had shaped my critical mind about statistical analysis and making hypotheses. And all these achievements had their foundation in this small village of Altenberg north of Vienna.

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The Wienerwald with Lourdes

The hills north of Vienna are called “Wienerwald”. Wienerwald? When I was young, this was the name of a chain of restaurants that provided poultry with french fries – often in baskets. Now I see, this is also the name of the hills north of Vienna. From here the Polish king Sobieski attacked and defeated the Turks in 1683, when they besieged Vienna.

In the hills there is a pilgrimage place called Lourdes (pronounced Lurd-e-s). The Granma of the cousin of my friends had donated the land to set up the pilgrimage, though being protestant. Today we are alone here in the pouring rain. We find the guard in his small wooden house near the site and buy a map. He is surprised to see guests on this rainy day.

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Nearby we escape the rain in the restaurant Waldhaus (there are even rain drops on my optical lens).

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We sit down in the cosy room. I  have roasted pork with Serviettenknödel. I learn that for “Serviettenknödel” you roll up the paste in a napkin (Serviette) and then cut pieces from the resulting “snake”. My meal was solid, but tasty. With it we drink “Sturm”. This is freshly fermented raisin juice – and when it becomes available in Vienna, they announce it as “Sturm-Alarm” (“storm alarm”).

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Kloster Stift Neuburg – Monastery and Wine Cellar

After our tasty and solid meal we stop in Neuburg on a rocky hill above the Danube.  The margraves and dukes of Babenberg are still very present here. Hotels and restaurants are called after them. The Babenbergs had died out in the 13th century – then the Habsburgians took over in Austria.

The Babenbergs founded the monastery  Kloster Stift Neuburg in the 12th century. It was an Augustinian monastery for women.

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The church inside is baroque.

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We visit the wine production and the caves that go down 35m in the rock to reach the level of the Danube. The walls are 10m thick, with a gap that allows the air to circulate and keep the cellar dry. The oldest wine bottle stored here is from 1938. Also the museums of Vienna use the excellent climate of the cellars to store material in it.

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I learn about the Austrian white grapes called Rotgipfler  and Zierfandler. This is an assemblage of the two.

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I buy some St.Laurent, a Pinot Noir that made a gold medal and Patronis, which is dedicated to Leopold and Agnes, the founders of the monastery.

There is a legend related to the foundation of the monastery. When Margrave Leopold III of Babenberg married Agnes von Waiblingen, a sudden windswept carried away the veil of Agnes. Nine years later Leopold found the veil in the forest on an elder bush – undamaged. He decided that this must be a sign of Heaven telling him to build the monastery here – and he founded this monastery – Kloster Stift Neuburg. The plate at the entrance to the wine cellar illustrates the legend.

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Culture in the evening: Tschaikowskij in the Musikverein

We finish off the day in the Musikverein (Grosser Saal). Vladimir Fedosejev directs the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. He is 84 years old and vital. The orchestra plays Tschaikowskij. Andrei Korobeinikovs (born in 1986) plays the piano in the b-Moll-piano concert. The young pianist makes a great impression on me. The comment about this Russian evening is enthusiastic. Thank you for this.

Vienna – visiting some churches

Let us visit some of the churches in Vienna (see Feliz Czeike: “Wien. Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte der Donaumetropole”, Dumont 2013) .

The best known church is the Stephansdom or St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It dominates the skyline of the city center – this is the view from the Softel tower.

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Its construction lasted from 1230 (romanesque style – west facade) to 1523 (gothic style). The tower – 136m high and called “Steffl” – was useful to observe the Turks, when they attacked Vienna in 1529 and 1683.

The oldest church in today’s Vienna is the romanesque Ruprechtskirche near the Danube Channel. It is assumed that part of it was built around 825 during Carolingian times (Dumont, p. 170).

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Not far from here we find the gothic church Maria am Gestade or St. Mary’s on the Bank from the 14th century, squeezed into the narrow streets of the city center, but well visible for the former mariners on the Danube. Today this church is used by the Czeks in Vienna.

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Near the Hofburg, we visit the gothic Minoritenkirche or Minorites Church today used by the Italians in Vienna. The original tower had been destroyed in 1683 and then topped with this flat roof. The sacistry house was added in 1909 – from outside the Minoriten church does almost not look like a church.

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I like the solemn atmosphere inside and particularly this statue of Maria (Madonna della famiglia from ca 1350)

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The main chapel of the imperial Hofburg had to fit into the narrow streets around the castle.

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Many of the churches in Vienna are of baroque style. In the city center we visit the church that the Jesuits had built from 1623 – 27, next to their university.

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Inside the church has been opulently decorated.

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South of the old city walls is the Karlskirche or St. Charles’s Church (erected by Charles VI in 1716-1737 and dedicated to Charles Borromeo). The two towers remind me of minarets (apologies, and yes, I read in Dumont that they remind us of Roman victory columns and that they show the life of Saint Borromeo (Dumont, p. 244)).

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Charles Borromeo was a counter-reformer in the 16th century. The cupola is 72m high and can be accessed using a lift (and paying 8 Euros). Up there we find this painting of Luther going to hell and an angel burning his bible. Dramatic scenery.

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Well, in 2017 Germany will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther having posted his 95 theses in 1517. Luther’s heritage has persisted longer than this painting may have suggested.

With the Karlskirche we end our church tour through Vienna, leaving more churches for our next visit – “my” Dumont recommends particularly the Augustinerkirche (Augustinian church) and the Michaelerkirche (St. Michael’s church).