A Physicist in Austria

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve just recently returned from a research trip to Vienna, Austria.  I was there for two and a half weeks, and fortunately, I had plenty of time to see some sights!  I first visited Vienna when I was in college and on a whirlwind tour of Europe (Marburg, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Paris, all in two weeks!) with my aunt. It was my favorite city during that tour, and so I’ve created opportunities to return!

I remember visiting Schönbrunn Palace with tired feet on a hot August day back on that first time in Vienna.  Although we didn’t have the energy to explore the gardens that time, Schönbrunn did become one of my favorite places, and I have since explored those gardens thoroughly!  I’m not really a runner, but during my last visit to Vienna in 2013, I ran on the garden paths of Schönbrunn several times, and I finally feel that I’ve seen the full grounds. This visit was colder, but I did manage it one morning, and the view of the Schloss from the Gloriette in the (relatively) early morning was wonderful.  This is the view that Empress Maria Theresa had most mornings for breakfast.

Schloss Schönbrunn, from the Gloriette

I took a few excursions out of Vienna on the weekends, including a 2 hour river cruise on the Danube through the Wachau Valley from Melk to Krems (and connecting to Vienna by train).  The entire valley of the Wachau is a world heritage site and has been inhabited by humans for around 30,000 years, since the Paleolithic!  The village of Willendorf, where the famous female figure known as the Venus of Willendorf was found, is here in this valley.  One of my favorite sights on this trip is the ruins of the castle at Dürnstein.  This castle is where Richard the Lionheart was held captive on his way home to England from the Crusades.  That was in 1192!  Without this captivity, we wouldn’t have the stories of Robin Hood or Ivanhoe. Frankly, I’m not sure King Richard was as great as he was made out to be in either of those stories, though.

The ruins at Dürnstein, on the Danube River

Another excursion took me east of Vienna, to Carnuntum, an excavation and reconstruction of a Roman military installation and city.

Heidentor (Heathen’s Gate) outside Carnuntum

Coliseum ruins at Carnuntum

A well-preserved Roman mosaic floor at Carnuntum, with a reconstructed typical Roman room around it

So you can see my little mascot Leo in some of these pictures.  I keep him in my bag and put him in a lot of my pictures — I like the personal character he brings to my otherwise standard tourist shots!

On the Graben

Leo also enjoyed visiting with another lion at a fountain on the Graben, right in the heart of Vienna.

At the opera

And he made a visit to the Vienna State Opera to see Puccini’s Tosca.

The last weekend that I was in Austria, we made an excursion to Styria, in southern Austria, and saw some amazing things. It is so different to be shown around a country by a native, rather than just being a tourist.  We were able to see things I would have never found on my own.  Namely, we stayed at a hotel in this amazing castle, south of Graz.

Burg Deutschlandberg

And we went to see the Weltmaschine (World Machine) of Franz Gsellmann.  The Weltmaschine really defies easy characterization, but I would describe it as a type of outsider art.  Gsellmann wanted to be an electrical engineer but was unable to afford school. At his family farm, he gradually built this electrical machine with bells, lights, and many moving parts out of bits and pieces that he collected from flea markets.  There are some videos online, but it is amazing in person.  Imagine all these bits whirring around, quite loudly, with ringing bells and flashing lights.


Detail of some of the construction of the Weltmaschine

Another Detail of the Weltmaschine

It was an amazing trip, and I haven’t even told you about the cheese cave, the pumpkin seed oil, the Lainzer Tiergarten, or the art at the Albertina!  I do have one more awesome thing to share, but it deserves its own post, so you’ll have to wait and see!  I promise, I’ll get back into physics for that one!

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