Next Stop, Praha And Wien

We’re very excited about our next trip which is coming up in the fall. We’re flying to Vienna, Austria then traveling by train to Prague in the Czech Republic. We’ve booked an apartment in Prague, complete with kitchenette, fridge and a washer and dryer. That should make like a little easier on us as we can pack light and wash our clothes for reuse and also stock up on groceries and save the cost of eating out for every meal.

I confess, I am just a teeny-weeny bit apprehensive on this one. Cynthia’s Spanish language skills served us well on the two trips to Spain, but neither of us speak any Czech or German. I’m sure there’s enough English being spoken that we’ll manage, but it will be a challenge. This is the furthest east we’ve ventured.

It will also be a challenge since The Czech Republic has not adopted the Euro. They’re still using their own currency, the Czech Crown (CZK). We’ve gone ahead and got our Czech money from the bank in advance.

The exchange rate is about 20 CZK to 1 USD. To do the conversion, divide by 20. That’s approximately $10 on the top, $5 in the middle and $25 on the bottom.

Prague is known as the “Belly Of The World” due to their being the world record holder for drinking beer. Check out this video

Safe Arrival In Vienna

We flew from Houston to Washington DC where we caught our connecting flight to Vienna. The flight from Houston was delayed by half an hour due to the weather (thank you very much Tropical Storm Hermine). Still, we made it to Dulles with plenty of time.

The flight from Washington to Vienna was 9 hours. We cleared customs and found our way to the Hotel without much problem.

We arrived too early to check in so we stowed our bags with the hotel and took a walk. Unfortunately, it is raining today so that put a slight damper on our already exhausted mood.

We walked for a bit to get our bearings and then headed back to the hotel to see if we could check in yet and we got lucky. The previous tenant was gone and the chambermaid was prepping the room. Before long we were settled in, had some showers and laid down for a 2 hour nap.

After the nap we headed back out and looked around some more. I found the 3 Mobile store and bought a pre-paid 3G sim card for my new Samsung Vibrant and now have relatively inexpensive phone service and data connectivity while I am here. I’ll be playing with Twitter and streaming video while we move about.

The data speeds are VERY good. 1.6 megabits download and 1.2 upload.

We’re off to do some more exploring in an effort to stay up past 8pm so we can defeat the jet lag. If we stay up till then we’ll wake up early tomorrow and should be right as rain.

Photographic Fun In Vienna

Vienna is a VERY photogenic city. We were walking around rather casually by the Vienna Opera House and I spotted these two fountains. I shot these using the HDR technique of capturing three different exposures and then tonemapping them into one image using Photomatix. To have this work really well you should use a tripod, but I was not carrying mine at the time so I had to shoot the three images handheld. Thanks to the shake reduction technology of the Sony and the quickness of the Minolta 35/2 lens I was able to pull this off with more than satisfactory results.

I will be going out with the tripod this evening to see what I can get. There’s a lot to shoot here and I’ve already got some more great stuff in the pipeline.

Vienna – Day 2 – Part 1

We woke up a little late, around 9:30. I guess we needed the sleep. After we showered and got dressed we found our way to Cafe Mozart for some breakfast. I love these cafes! The waiter all dress in coat and tie and everything just seems a little “upscale” but casual at the same time.

We had what the menu called the “Large Viennese Breakfast” which was coffee, a soft-boiled egg, some rolls, a glass of OJ and some deli sliced ham and cheese. It was pretty good.

Our plan for this morning was to visit the Imperial Crypt, located below Capuchin Church which, since Since 1633, has been the principal place of entombment for members of the Habsburg dynasty.

It is a VERY creepy place. Dimly lit and full of dead nobility.

It was a very interesting trip through time.

From there we headed over to the Imperial Treasury to see the crown jewels and other artifacts of the Habsburg Dynasty.

There are some fantastic treasures in this space. Photography was a challenge here as well as in the crypt due to dim lighting.

I won’t bore you with too many details. Just a few photos of some VERY noteworthy artifacts. These, to me, were three of the most impressive items on display.

In this one case we have the Imperial Cross (center) that housed a piece of the true cross (on the right) and on the left the The Holy Lance which is the head of the spear that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung from the cross.

And this was no ordinary, every day, run of the mill piece of the true cross. Oh no…
This one had one of the nail holes in it making it TRULY unique and probably extra holy.

After leaving the Imperial Treasury we had planned on going to one of the art museums, but we came out and the sun was shining and it was so beautiful that we altered our plans and took a walk. Details on that in the next update.

Vienna – Day 2 – Part 2

We took the subway out to Wien Meidling railway station to go ahead and purchase our train tickets to Prague for Monday. The subway is clean and fairly easy to navigate so we didn’t have any trouble except that somehow we managed to get off one stop too soon coming back and had to hoof it a bit further than we would have liked.

Having the train ticket secured we were able to confirm our driver in Prague who will pick us up at the train station and drive us to our apartment. Apparently, taking a cab from the train station in Prague is a dicey proposition and should be avoided. Having a driver pick us up takes a load off our mind.

After taking in the crown jewels and the crypt we had planned to go to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, but the sun had come out and it was so beautiful outside we opted to skip it and go for a walk instead to get some outside photos.

We were walking down the street when I saw this

Movie buffs may recognize this as the front of Harry Lime’s apartment from the film “The Third Man” featuring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Wells. I recognized it immediately, despite the scaffolding.

We walked over to the The Vienna City Hall, only to find that they were in the process of setting up for the Vienna Film Festival. This included putting a giant movie screen smack dab in the middle of the city hall building.

From there we walked across the street to the Burgtheater

And then across the street for a much needed sitdown and snack break at the legendary Cafe Landtmann, the preferred coffee house of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Peter Altenberg, Felix Salten and Emmerich Kálmán,

From there we walked back along the Ringstrasse back to the hotel to recombobulate.

Vienna – Day 1 – Part 3

After relaxing for awhile in the room we headed out to find an Italian restaurant that Rick Steves mentioned in his book called La Norma

It is a great restaurant and we’ll likely go back.

After dinner we headed over to the Vienna Opera House with the tripod to get some extended exposure shots. As we were passing by the back of the opera house we noticed that they were showing the performance from inside on a giant screen. La Bohème as it was being performed, free to anyone who cared to pull up a chair and watch it. The opera house even provided chairs.

Vienna is a city that loves and promotes classical music and opera, that’s for sure. Cynthia was blown away. We both agreed that this was one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen.

We moved on from there to setup the tripod and the wide-angle lens and this is what I came up with

I’m not completely happy with these and will bring out another lens and try again. These just seem a bit soft to me.

We walked back to the hotel as we were fairly exhausted at this point, but I did snap a few shots on the way.

Tomorrow The Schönbrunn

Vienna – Day 2 – Part 1

Today was all about going to see Schönbrunn Palace. That and sleeping in too late. Apparently we’re more tired and jet lagged than we thought. We got up around 10:30 and got dressed and got a bite to eat and then headed to the metro to catch the subway train to the palace. All in all, pretty simple.

Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence and now belongs to the public. Most of the site can be accessed for free but if you want to go inside the actual palace that will cost you. We paid for the access but decided to skip the actual palace tour as they would not allow photography or carry a backpack. I was fine with no pictures but my backpack has all my camera gear and I’m not leaving it with the coat check girl. Not going to happen. Nope. But the tickets got us access to the Gloriette and some other sections so it was a good deal.

I was glad for my wide angle lenses, but in truth there is so much wide open space that you could easily get far enough back to get everything in the frame. We walked into the first garden which is located off to the side of the palace and there’s a panorama terrace. This was shot with the Sony 24-70mm lens and i got just about the whole thing in a single frame.

Back to the main palace grounds with your back to the palace and looking across The Great Parterre you can see the Neptune Fountain and beyond that, The Gloriette.

The Neptune Fountain is simply magnificent. And GIANT. The pool below the fountain is a great tourist barrier and allows for some great photos.

What’s even cooler is that you can climb up into the back of the fountain and look through the cascading water back to the palace.

It’s really wet back there and when a breeze kicks up it send water everywhere. I braved the wet to get this shot and it was worth it.

From there it is uphill via winding paths to reach The Gloriette which is built on a man made hill that is some 60 meters high.

We climbed up to The Gloriette and availed ourselves of the cafe that is there and had something to drink and to eat. After that we used our ticket to gain admission to the panorama view from the top of The Gloriette.

A spectacular view

I did take this opportunity to break out the Nodal Ninja and shoot some panorama frames. I will be stitching them together later to see if I had any success.