30 March 2010

First Interrail Adventure - Bratislava and Budapest

So first of all, last night I dropped my ipod into my glass of water. See, my bedside cabinet has an upper shelf and a lower shelf, so i sit in bed with my computer on the top part and my glass of water down bottom, because it would be just like me to spill it over my laptop.

Anyway, I plugged my ipod in before I went to bed so that the music could update. Then I got up off of my bed and I guess I must have tripped over the cords or something, but next thing I know my ipod has just plopped right into my glass of water! I pull it out straight away, and unplug it from the computer real quick, and dry it on a tissue. The screen was flickering on and off and then it said it was out of battery and shut down. So I dry it off some more and leave it, my room here is so warm I figured it would dry out some.

Then next thing you know, I hear these weird noises. Sort of static/electric popping/sizzling noises. So I figure, that's it, it's frying on the inside, it's dead. And I put it in my wardrobe so I couldn't hear it.

But this morning it worked! Only there is no light anymore. And when I got to work I found that the play/pause button wasn't working, it was just doing the same thing as the fast forward button. But that's manageable, if you just pull out the headphones it pauses, and then turns off after a couple of minutes. And instead of play I can just tell it to shuffle. But still, if it doesn't sort itself out I think I will need a new one. Especially seeing as on the way home today it sent a shock (just a very small one) up my headphones to my ears. Now that's a bit freaky. But the new ones are way cooler than my old one, they have a video camera and a pedometer and when you shake them they shuffle the songs!

So anyway to get to the real point of my post today which is what I did on Sunday. See, I got the rail pass and I have 5 days of travel within the next 10. And Easter is only a 3 day weekend. Though I am taking Friday off so that's 4 days. So Sunday made the 5th day and I got up at 4am! I went to Bratislave first, which is the capital of Slovakia. And the train was on time but was stuck at the station for 40 minutes so I could have slept longer! Of course, if I had, you know the train would have been on time.

I arrived at about 6.40 and because it was a Sunday everything was quiet and empty. Bratislava is a very small capital and there is not much to see. The castle was quite unimpressive as castles go - perhaps because it is painted white. I mean, castles are not supposed to be whitewashed, it just looks silly.

Across from the castle is a big grey block of apartments which is something to do with the comunist regime. It's like a comparison, on one side of the river is the old city and the other the communist Bratislava. The old city is all cobbletones and church spires. The communist city is grey blocks and big chimneys.

Then there is this suspension bridge with a big "UFO" tower on it - looks a bit like the sky tower. And there is a rotating restaurant up there but I don't know how you get to it. As a whole the city is a pretty weird mix of styles.

After the castle I went walking through the historic district which is full of old buildings and nice churches. Very small streets and rough cobblestones.

Near the big St Martin's cathedral is a random building in which copies of famous Van Gogh paintings have been painted in the boarded up windows.

And there is a random statue of a guy down a man-hole.

So I didn't even stay in Bratislave as long as I intended because there was just not much to see, and it's luck I didn't because there is so much to see in Budapest. I could happily spend a proper holiday there. The buildings are so impressive, and very different to here. There are more domes, and more variety in style,. I walked everywhere so that I could see as much as possible, and first on my way from the train station to the Donau river (Danube in English, Vienna and Bratislave are also built around the Donau) I saw your general busy, smelly road with many people and cars and some very large, dark and oppressive seeming buildings. At least everything was not closed though, and all the restaurants smelt really good. But then all the big sights began to appear, and once you get off of the main road things are not so messy. First important sight to see was the Great Synagogue, but I didn't pay to go inside and do the tour, or see the Holocaust museum. Just looked.

I also stopped to look at many nice buildings and churches on the way but I cannot put all my photos on here, it is going to be crazy-long as it is.

When I got to the Donau I stopped to look at all the bridges and then began to walk along the river, taking photos of all the nice things on the way.

By the way, Budapest is actually two cities in one. I was still on the Pest side of the river, and to cross the bridges brings you into Buda, which is spread over hills. I came across I line of shoes on the side of the river; I thought that was very odd, who do all these shoes belong to? Then I got closer and saw that they were metal. It is in fact a very spread out statue, symbolises the desire of the people to escape Hitler.

Here is the Chain Bridge, the nicest bridge of several. After walking a long way to see the parliament building, and stopping to get ice-cream, I crossed to the Buda side of the river. I actually crossed this bridge several times and really, it is just a bridge. I am not quite sure why it is an important site to see. Yes, it is a nice bridge. But not amazing.

So after crossing the bridge, there was a lot of climbing to do. Like I said, Buda is built over hills. Directly on the river bank is Castle Hill upon which is Buda Castle. And the castles in Budapest are far more what you would think a castle should look like. This is not really the castle at all. But I liked it best, it looks very fairy-tale like. It is called Fisherman's Bastion, an arcade off to the side of the castle, part of the Castle Hill fortifications.

The actual castle was nice too.

But I think the best thing about Castle Hill were the views of the city spread out below.

And from up high and across the river you can see the big buildings in a more entire sort of way, with a proper view of all the domes and towers, and fit the whole thing in a photo.

There is also a hill with a statue and more amazing views of the city but I just didn't have the time to go. Instead I went back down the hill and up Andrassy ut, the main tourism street. First you come across St Stephen's Basilica, a really beautiful church.

And then, after a long street full of beautiful, historic buildings, you get to Heroe's Square, a big statue-y monument to many different leaders, and the city park. The park has another castle, Vajdahunyad, which is really gorgeous and ecletic, like heaps of small castles smooshed together.

By this stage I had been walking around Budapest for about 6 hours, and seen all the really important things that were on my list. Of course in a single day there is only time to look, no time to see musuems, which is a shame because there are some good ones in Budapest, there is a really nice art museum and apparently the spy-museum, about the secret police of the communist era, is really interesting. But I was tired so I went back to the train station to catch the earlier train back home. But I missed it by like, 5 minutes! So I had another hour and a half in Budapest. But now the sun had gone down and I made the most of my time left, despite being dead tired, by going back to the Donau (by train this time) and looking at all the pretty lights.

Then it was finally home-time. The train took 3 hours and I was home by half-past midnight. I'm still tired, so it is again time for bed. The time has changed now for summer, we have gone an hour forward, so it feels a lot earlier than it is. Big plans for Easter weekend and I will be absolutely shattered, but this rail-pass thing is so great, every chance I get for a holiday I will surely do this. Though to spend longer in each place would also be great.

26 March 2010


It's Friday! The weekend!

And spring in Austria is sooo much better than in NZ. I'm pretty sure it started at the start of March, so basically the whole time that I have been doing this course. The first week of March was a bit cold, it snowed again just a little. But it was mostly not snowy, no more white on the ground. And it has rained - but what is this stuff that they are calling rain here? It is nothing. So it got warm and I could swap my winter coat for my lighter trench coat, but it gets better than that. I only even had the chance to wear that coat the once, it was just too warm! I have been walking around in just jeans and a tee-shirt, not even a jumper most days! And what is spring in New Zealand? Freezing cold sleet and rain? Hail and snow? No sun till well into summer? Here people are already sitting along the canal eating ice-creams! And I am sunburnt!

So basically - spring in Vienna = 1, spring in Invers = 0. Come summer though I would really miss the beach.

And today my course finished (yay). It was a good course, and apparantly as courses go quite relaxed. But I am so tired somehow. I am ready to sleep away the weekend (and it is supposed to "rain" so what better excuse?). And because it is Friday and the course finished it is reason to celebrate, so I had chocolate (to get through that last bit of assignment work, and it was caramel, and not as good as NZ cadbury caramello) and bounty (to recover from assignment) and fudge cake (because it was in the fridge). The fudge cake I make because it is from NZ and people here love it. And I gotta say, it was way more satisfying to have a piece of fudge cake than just chocolate. So note to self - make more fudge cake.

But you know now I only have a month left, so I should not waste a weekend catching up on sleep. Who needs sleep anyway? I should be travelling! And my friends are away this weekend and the next - Easter and all that. So I should save Vienna activities till after Easter and do something for myself. But what? That's the question.

It turns out you can get these rail passes. You can travel on any trains you want for 5 days within a period of 10 days for only 160 euros (like 300 NZ dollars). And that's pretty good, you could see 5 different countries really. Of course I only have the weekend and the long Easter weekend. If only I had the semester break like all the students here do. But still. If I can get that pass I think I should do it. But I am not sure if I qualify, it is for residents of Europe. Techinically now I live in Ireland, and I have a registration card from immigration over there. But I have a NZ passport, so they might say I that I'm not eligible. And the pass for foreigners is twice as much - which is too much for me (and I would be gutted).

So tomorrow I am going to find out about it, and then, maybe, I will travel somewhere! I couldn't decide where but my housemate suggests as much of eastern europe as possible. Because Italy, Spain, France, Germany - these are all easy countries. I can visit them anytime really, from Ireland if I want, and next year I will be in Germany anyway. I might not have the chance to come back to this area properly, or at least not for a very long time. So it is decided. If I can get this 10 day pass, I will just get it and go. How is that for a crazy, last minute, on-a-whim decision?

I have been advised to see Budapest (Hungary) and Krakow (Poland), and Bratislavia because it is so close. Then there is Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. I am really not sure how much there is time for. They say you can see a city in a day, and of course you can take night trains. But then, the advantage to a day train is you see the countryside also. And spending the night at your destination allows you to experience even more. So I really don't know. And maybe I don't qualify for a pass anyway, in which case instead of a pile of countries I will probably just see a couple.

So possibly big plans for the weekend. I just don't know yet. No pictures to show today (sigh). I have just not been doing enough, and of course nobody is interested in my science pictures. But now that the course is over I will try to pack as much into this last month as possible and put up heaps of pictures.

21 March 2010

Hundertwasser House

It has been such a busy week with this course that I didn't really do much at all. But last weekend I went to have a look at the Hundertwasser house, which you can see right here:

So this apartment block was designed by Hundertwasser (a Viennese artist) for free, in order to prevent something ugly going up in its place. I think it might have been one of his first, before this he was primarily known for paintings. Anyway he is a firm believer in many different colours and his buildings have uneven floor, because apparently we did not evolve to walk on flat surfaces. Not to mention the roof of the building is covered in grass and trees.

So anyway it turns out that this architect went to New Zealand and decided that he liked it so much that he ended up spending most of his time there, and declared that his true home was New Zealand! The only thing he built in New Zealand was some public loos at Kawakawa, some small town in the North Island I think. But isn't that the most random thing? Everybody here tells me how Red Bull was invented in Austria, so now I tell them all that their architect loved New Zealand.

12 March 2010

First week of my course

It has been a very long week. I started my ultrastructure course, which goes from 8 till 4. And these last three days I have been staying later to do my other work, because I need to take pictures of all my histology stuff. So that I can put them in the book chapter that my supervisor is writing. Which is very exciting, my name will be published as co-author in a book some time this year. But it does mean that this weekend I have to work. But maybe not too hard.

Here is my image of the week. According to all my collegues who have been giving me their opinion, it is a very good image. Made my day.

Oh, and my course is going quite well. Everything is tiny, like microscopic almost. Today was working with very small hard to see stuff so was not so great. But mostly it is okay and I get by despite not understanding German.

09 March 2010


So the last week was pretty quiet, I got some work done and made the most of not being very busy. Because this week I have started the ultrastructure course and have to be at work at 8 am! Not to mention that the course is in German so that doesn't really help me to stay awake early in the morning. Ultrastructure is a little like histology. You have a wee piece of an animal, you embed it in stuff, you cut it up, you look at it under a microscope. Only in histology you are looking at micrometres (there is a thousand micrometres in a millimetre) and now in ultrastructure I have to deal with nano-metres! It is ridiculously tiny.

Anyway over the weekend I went to the Natural History Musuem. I was going to go to one of the art galleries but now that I am intent on visiting musuems I could not help but see the Natural History one first. And it was really quite good - the guide book that I had did not have many good things to say about it but obviously the author was a bit of a dick. I liked the fact that they have kept the original cases instead of ripping out all of that history to appease the tourists.

First there was the geology, and you would think rocks are boring, but I couldn't read all the boring stuff anyway because it was all in German. So I just looked at all the pretty rocks. They were very sparkly,and there were a couple of huge geodes full of amethyst, about a metre or so in diameter. And some gigantic chunks of solid gold. They must need really tight security. And this beautiful bouquet made of diamonds and gem-stones.

Then you got into the fossils and next thing you know - dinosaur bones! It took me awhile to realise, because you see them on tele all the time, but I don't think I had ever seen dinosaur bones before. Back in NZ it is all moa bones and that's about all we have.

Then lastly Natural History would not be complete without heaps of dead and stuffed animals. There were too many though, it gets a bit depressing after awhile. They had Kea, Kakapo, Kiwi, Kaka and Huia. And a Takahe too. Strange to see NZ birds there.

There was also a Darwin exhibition, which is probably more interesting for non-biologists who don't already know all of that. But you know he actually studied barnacles for a long time before coming up with the theory of evolution, so there were my barnacles on display for the world. Thought I doubt many people pay the barncles much attention. You know, in medieval times they thought that plant, marine and bird life could be seen altogether in the goose-barnacle-tree, which grew barnacles, out of which came geese. So you see I actually study a really amazing animal, and one day, if they survive so long, they might turn into birds.

02 March 2010

A rather quiet week

It has not only stopped snowing but it really feels like spring. Today it was 10 degrees! That is a nice day, right? Or have I just grown accustomed to the temperature staying below zero? Not only that but on my way home it began to rain, just a very little. And in Ireland I complain of the rain because it never goes away, but it has rained maybe twice since I have been here in Vienna. So it was nice. And the good thing about this nice weather is that you can get outside and suddenly you notice again all the nice buildings. The area in which I live is not the nicest, and sort of dodgy, but it is not all bad. This church here is quite close to where I live, and while all the churches and buildings here are very impressive, this one is my favourite. It looks like a castle.

Anyway last week's big work meeting went well. My presentation was first and I think it went well, and I was glad to go first and have it over and done with. Then there was another day and a half of sitting there listening - it was very very long. There were bikkies and chocolate to keep us going so I spent the duration of the meeting snacking. It was decided that seeing as I have some nice results they will go in the book chapter on barnacle adhesion and I will be co-author. Co-author!! And I will try to publish my results in about a year. And the trip to Germany will be next March or April. So there you go, now I have some goals. But for this week not much to do, time is dragging on a bit. I should make the most of laziness though because next week I am beginning a big course.

Over the weekend it was a perfect sunny day to climb the tower of Stephansdom, the cathedral. But you know, I managed to forget my camera. That's okay though, because after climbing all those stairs (and it really wasn't as much as I thought it would be) there was not really that much to see. I was quite disappointed. All you could see was the city, and maybe I will go up another day to take photos, but I might not bother. You can't see to the countryside, you can't see the mountains, and there is no ocean around this country. Looking down onto the city is not that great.

So instead of a photo of the city roofs, here is a nice view of the Donau canal on my way to work. You can see the burn the rubbish. Or maybe they heat water there. I have been given conflicting information. General agreement is that it is the rubbish tip. It was designed by Hundertwasser, on whom I will have more to say another day. Isn't a nice view that I have now that I have more to see than just snow?