Lake Attersee: Where Klimt Spent His Summers and So Should You

The water of Lake Attersee in Upper Austria is crystal clear but changes its color by the minute from a near Caribbean-like sapphire to bright azure and dark navy; I watch the clouds race and the swans jockey for bread from the tourists walking past. It is easy to understand why Austrian painter Gustav Klimt spent sixteen summers at the shore of this lake and created 45 of his 50 landscape paintings based on the views around the lake.

The Gustav Klimt Center in the small town of Kammer am Attersee celebrates and explains Klimt’s fascination and works connected with the lake as it brings together facsimiles of some of his landscapes and provides a handy map of the lake indicating the locations of the views from all his Attersee paintings.  A short documentary explains more about Klimt’s life at the lake and his friendship with Emilie Floege, the sister of his sister-in-law and a fashion designer; many of her pieces remind me of the loose and colorful robes in Klimt’s paintings.

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Outfit Designed and Worn by Emilie Floege, the Sister of Klimt’s Sister-in-Law (on display at the Klimt Center)

The Center provides a nice summary and starting point, but do not expect too much; it is a very small exhibit and none of the paintings are the originals. Of course that is understandable considering that Klimt’s paintings are worth millions. For example, the painting “Kammer Castle at Attersee” sold in 1997 for 19.1 million Euros according to a sign in the Center. However, the Center’s exhibit would greatly benefit from at least one original painting that maybe could be a loan. So I recommend not expecting more from the Center than a starting point and inspiration to go out and explore the lake and its shore, especially via the Klimt Artist Trail starting right outside the Center.

Map of the Lake

Map of the Lake and its Surroundings Indicating the View of Each Painting

The trail is an easy walk of about 1.5km or a little less than a mile along the lake shore from the Center to Villa Paulick, where Klimt spent some time.  Other parts of the trail are on the southern shore of the lake. Along the trail are panels/kiosks with details about Klimt’s life as well as photos of paintings based on the particular view and often a square cutout/view finder to imitate Klimt’s process, who used a simple cutout/frame to look for motifs.

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Close-up of sign along the Klimt path with square view finder looking at Castle Kammer similar to Klimt’s painting.

From 1899 onward, all of Klimt’s landscapes were exclusively created in a square format, so Klimt favored a format that now has become standard and expected with the popularity of Instagram and its square photos. Inspired by the cutouts in the kiosks, I took several photos of the same view in landscape format and then also in the square format, and I did prefer the square ones (but maybe that is because I have been influenced by the daily use of Instagram):

Landscape view of Lake

Landscape View of Lake

 

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Square View of the Lake a la Klimt

 

Even though the trail leads one to the spots that inspired Klimt’s paintings, often too much has changed to create the same impression on photos such as the avenue leading up to Kammer Castle:

 

A drive around the lake (the road is often right next to the water) offers plenty of gorgeous views reminiscent of Klimt’s landscapes even if you do not spend the time to find the exact spots:

 

At some point, I was too taken by the views to pay attention to the map and possible markers to keep track of the trail on the southern lake shore:

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Southern Lake Shore

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The color of the lake water changes from bright green to teal to azure.

Even if you are not a Klimt fan, the lake is worth a visit for strolling, hiking, boating, and swimming; it is also a very popular lake for scuba diving because of its clear waters and depth.

Public Pool

Public Pool Overlooking the Lake in Seewalchen (Along the Artist Trail)

Or maybe the views inspire you to paint or sketch (here is how Klimt depicted the water):

 

Lake Attersee is about 2.5 hours by car from Vienna, and a little bit over half an hour by car from Salzburg but pretty difficult to reach by public transportation (no major train stations are right on the lake).

The Klimt Center is near the harbor in Kammer and its opening hours change throughout the year, so check the website for more details: https://www.klimt-am-attersee.at/en/ . The Artist Trail is free and open 24/7; find a great map of all the stops here.

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants with great views along the northern shore of the lake, so the lake is definitely worth a visit.

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View of the Harbor in Kammer from the Cafe at the Klimt Center

 

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Not Your Typical Lecture Hall or Library in Bologna, Italy

I have spent plenty of my time in lecture halls/rooms on a college campus since I teach, but I teach at an institution that is barely older than I am (and no, I am not that old). So the buildings are nothing exciting – they are clean, they are practical, and they do their job, but they are definitely not memorable or give the impression that one is at a special place of learning. It is of course unfair to compare a college barely out of its infancy to the oldest university in the Western world, Bologna, but it is hard not to.

The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and was home to some very famous students such as Erasmus and Copernicus. The schools and venues of the university were scattered across town, but in the mid-16th century, the Palazzo dell’ Archiginnasio became the first permanent seat of the university until 1803 (when it moved to Via Zamboni, where it is still today).

Today, the Teatro Anatomico is a big tourist attraction, but oh, how exciting it would be to teach in this classroom (even though I do not teach biology, medicine, or dissection). The building was damaged during WWII but was rebuilt with mostly original materials it seems.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall for human dissections in oldest university in Europe.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall where the first human dissections in Europe took place.

Another lecture hall in the same building is Sala dello Stabat Mater; it is still used for talks and lectures today, and old decorations clash with modern chairs, screen, and projector.

The palazzo is also home to the city library, Biblioteca Comunale, which is really a working library and does not allow entry to  tourists but only to serious library users.

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Page of the medical book by Lucantonio Giunta from the mid-sixteenth century on how to take care of fractures.

Just across the square Piazza Maggiore is another gorgeous library that is just a “normal” city library used by residents. Biblioteca Salaborsa is a gorgeous, multi-story building in Art Nouveau style; it was once a botanical garden, military training ground, basketball court, and the Stock Exchange.

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Biblioteca Salaborsa inside the former Stock Exchange in Art Nouveau style

It was built on Roman and medieval structures, which can be viewed through the glass floor of the library or walked through on the lower level.

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The glass floor of the Biblioteca Salaborsa shows excavations of medieval and Roman settlements.

I love libraries anyway, but these environments are even more exciting. I wonder if students or library users are/were  inspired by the environment or whether it was just another building to be in to reach one’s goal.

New Year’s Resolution

With the beginning of 2017, of course I also thought about New Year’s resolutions as so many others do, and getting fit is always pretty high on any list of resolutions. But I know myself well enough to know that these resolutions have a a tendency to fizzle out before too long, so I see no sense in getting stuck with a long-term, pricey membership contract with a gym. Indeed, plenty of memes and articles have made the rounds on social media based on the same idea in the last few days; one that in particular spoke to me was a fake offer for one to two training sessions and four photos of the new member working out on social media. Here is another meme that entertained me:

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Meme found on Tumbler

I have avoided the temptation to sign up for a gym so far, but I could not resist an original vinyl record of Jane Fonda’s 1981 workout record in a local thrift-store ( and with a two-dollar price tag also much cheaper than a gym membership). I mean – it is Jane Fonda, THE original workout maven! The VHS tape that followed and was based on her book and this record is the top selling VHS tape of all time according to several online sites. The record has a cheesy 8os sound track so that alone makes it entertaining; and the cover design is hilarious. I do not think even the thrift-store sold a pair of those 80s legwarmers and the high-cut leotard with matching belt.

Jane Fona Record

Album Cover of Jane Fonda’s 1981 Workout Record

Even if I stop the workout regime based on the record in a few weeks (which is very likely based on previous new year’s resolutions), I still have the entertainment factor, so I call this a good buy. If you are interested in the original video workout, browse YouTube (see example here).

The record is also an important piece of Americana, artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the U.S. It might not seem worthy of this label to some, but when I think 80s and U.S., Jane Fonda and aerobics always come to mind.

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Christmas Decorations and Workout Record

So here is to a great year ahead; may you stick to you resolutions or at least be entertained by your pursuit of your goals.

Reposing with Jewels: Bejeweled Skeletons of Saints in Austria

Statues of saints in Catholic churches aren’t anything surprising; skeletons of Saints adorned with precious stones and pearls, however, are quite a lot rarer and also much more fascinating. These bejeweled skeletons can be found in churches throughout Austria, Bavaria, and Switzerland and while they were rather common in the 17th century, many were taken down, looted, or lost in the 18th and 19th centuries. I am always amazed and amused by any bejeweled saint I come across; most of them nonchalantly repose on cushions and seem to try to make eye contact with those who meander down the side aisles of a church (most bejeweled saints are by side altars).

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Interior of the Church of Melk Abbey

Saint Clemens in Melk

Saint Clemens in Melk Abbey – A Gift to the Abbey in 1772

During my last trip to Austria and Bavaria, I was lucky enough to see quite a few of these bejeweled saints (without actually looking for them). They are so-called Catacomb Saints and meant to personify the glory of afterlife – which explains the relaxed poses and the over-the-top jewels; I guess there is no stress and plenty of riches. The Catacomb Saints are skeletons that were found in catacombs in Rome, Italy in May 1578. During road construction, an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 remains dating back to the first three centuries of Christianity were found. Based on the amount and age of the remains found, the conclusion was that some of these remains must be the relics of early Christian martyrs. Perfect timing – during the Protestant Reformation in Europe many relics (the physical remains or personal effects of saints or venerated persons) had been destroyed or lost, and now new relics had been found. It was an opportunity to “restock” so to speak.

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Relic of San Feliciano in Capelle Medicee at the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy

 

 

The Catacomb Saints of course came without labels or a resume, so names were invented for them after they had been declared saints by the Church. Thus, many of the saints have very German-sounding names to fit the place where they were going to be housed. Catacomb Saints were often gifts by the rich and famous to a church, such as Saint Friedrich, who was presented to the Abbey of Melk by Austrian Empress Maria Theresia.

 

Fine mesh gauze covers the bones and jewelry; precious stones and pearls are sown to the fabric. The elegant clothes and fancy jewelry were often donated by the rich of the parish. Most of the work was usually preformed by nuns but also by monks. While I am fascinated by the poses of the skeletons and the artistry of placing the jewels, many visitors are rather put off by the display.

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A Bejeweled Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

Saint Engelszell

Close-up of a Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

 

Saint Sandal

Another Fancy Sandal of a Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

This repulsion by some  may be one of the main reasons why so many of the saints are not displayed to their best advantage: the glass cases are often old, dusty, and badly lit, so it is hard to see the details clearly or take a picture; few of the saints have clear descriptions beyond their names on labels; signage that could also explain their history and importance at one time is non-existent usually; and most of them are placed in side niches cordoned off by rope, so it is easy to overlook them. Guidebooks and even leaflets about the history of the building and parish found in the church rarely if ever mention the saints. This meant that I usually came to see a church and “stumbled” across a Catacomb Saint, so if you are interested in seeing some of the saints, do some research ahead of time to look for the churches that still display these amazing examples of sacral art.

Saint Author in Aldersbach

A Bejeweled Saint who also Seems to Be an Author the Church in Aldersbach

 

Close-up of Saint in the Monestary in Reichersberg

Close-up of Saint in the Monastery in Reichersberg

Note: Details about the Catacomb Saint are mostly from the signage at some of the churches that I did find as well as an article by CNN, which has some pretty amazing photos of the saints as well. I visited the churches in Engeslzell, Reichersberg, and Melk (all in Austria) and in Aldersbach in Bavaria.

Sacred Mountain in Italy

I have not posted for a while and the main reason is that I left Europe at the end of May and returned to the US. Even though it was great to see family, friends, and my dogs again upon my arrival in the US, I left (especially Italy) with a heavy heart; I was not excited about coming back. If my husband and dogs would have been able to come and stay with me in Italy, I doubt I would have left. Since my return to California, I have been a little in a funk, and although I have plenty of photos and blog ideas about Italy as well as Austria and Germany, I have put off looking through photos and starting to write. Maybe the “wound” of leaving was just too fresh to be touched in any way.

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View over Lake Como in Northern Italy from the Sacred Mountain of Ossuccio

Now three weeks later, it is a little easier to look back at photos from the last few months without criticizing California for not being Italy. Finding fault in California for being California is obviously not a very rational feeling but strong nevertheless. I miss that I could just walk anywhere without a plan or a guidebook, and more likely than not I would stumble upon something amazingly beautiful and of (high) importance in history and/or art. This is extremely unlikely to happen in California, especially in the suburbs, and I now need to make an effort to go/drive and find a sight (other than nature!).

An example to illustrate this is that several weeks I lived near and walked past what appeared to simply be a normal building in Florence, yet large groups of tourists were always blocking the alleyway by the house as I tried to pass through. I finally stopped to read the plaque one day and realized it was the site where Michelangelo lived (15 Via dei Bentaccordi in case you are wondering).

Another example is the trip to the small village of Ossuccio on the shores of Lake Como. We had arrived too early to meet with the landlady to move into our apartment for the week and had time to kill. We did not yet have a guidebook or any specific plans on what to see in the area, so we just started to walk up into the mountains surrounding the lakeshore to get a better view of the lake and ended up visiting one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Sacro Monte di Ossuccio (Sacred Mountain of Ossuccio). It is one of nine sacred mountains in Piedmont and Lombardy, and the UNESCO website highlights the impressive union of architecture, sacred art, and natural landscape of these complexes.

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View of Sacro Monte di Ossuccio with the 14 Chapels Leading to the Sanctuary

Unaware that these sacred mountains even existed, we walked up the steep hillside to reach the small church we could see from the center of the village. But the path itself became part of the sight as it wound past 14 chapels constructed between 1635 and 1710 depicting scenes from the Bible with the help of 230 statues of stucco and terracotta and frescos in Baroque style.

Path Connecting the Chapels

Path Leading Up the Mountain and Past the Chapels

Assumption of Mary

Chapel 14: Assumption of Mary into Heaven

The nearly life-size statues by artist Agostino Silva were slightly creepy but also fascinating with their life-like body language and covered in what seemed a couple of centuries worth of dust.

Interior of a Chapel

Another Interior of a Chapel

The steep path of about a kilometer forced me to take plenty of breaks to appreciate the view of the lake and Comacina Island below until we reached the church/sanctuary Santuario Madonna del Soccorso from 1532.

View over Lake and Village

View over Lake Como and Ossuccio

Santuario Madonna del Soccorso

Sanctuary of the Holy Virgin of Help (Sanctuary Madonna del Soccorso)

And this is what I miss about Italy (or Europe in general) – what was really just meant to be a short stroll to stretch our legs after the car ride and kill some time until we could move into our apartment turned into the discovery of a pretty major sight. This would not happen that easily and that often in California I believe. But maybe I do not give California enough credit and maybe I need to be more adventurous and leave the paths I already know around here and see what I can discover.

View of Lake Como with Comacina Island on the Left

View over Lake Como with Comacina Island on the Left

 

Watch Your Steps: Fascinating Italian Floors and Roads

Traveling through Italy, I have had a hard time paying attention to all the details; there is just too much to take in (and I do not know whether that is just the richness of Italy or whether I have learned to notice more details on my travels over the last few months). As if it was not enough to have fascinating ceilings (see previous post), or small details such as enticing doorways and small decorative details (see another previous post),  or street art that one could overlook (see still another previous post), Italy also has amazing floors and roads. That may sound absurd and you may wonder how a road can be that amazing – especially when considering American roads. However, the roads and floors are fascinating – partially because of their age and significance and partially because of their beauty.  It is difficult to figure out how to pay attention to ceilings above, art at eye level, and floors under your feet often at the same place.

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Interior of Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence

One way is to spend plenty of time and to pause to take in all elements; another way is to acknowledge all but focus on one element. I have to admit for example that I remember the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but have no clue anymore what the floor looks like (I looked it up online and it is actually a very pretty, mostly black-and-white mosaic floor).

Over the last few months, plenty of floors and roads have stood out to me – some because of their beauty, some because of their historical significance or age, and some even for all reasons.

Some roads are not pretty or very artistic but they make an impact because of their age. Imagine who has already wandered these roadways; think about how many people have walked on these paving stones over the centuries!

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Road in the Roman Forum

 

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A Section of Original Brick in the Colosseum

Some pathways include details that might be overlooked at first glance:

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A “Road Sign” Carved in the Paving Stones in Pompeii Points in the Direction of the Brothel

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Small Pieces of Original Mosaic Floor in Pompeii

Many of the surfaces are beautiful and already well-known:

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The Famous Cave Canem Mosaic Floor in Pompeii

 

Others fascinate with their intricate details:

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Mosaic Floor in the Vatican

 

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Marble Floor in the Cathedral in Milan

 

Many of the surfaces also serve additional functions such as displaying astrological signs on a sort of calendar or support a superstition:

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Astrology Detail in the Marble Floor in the Cathedral in Milan

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Coat of Arms of Turin in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan – Legend has it brings good luck to put your right heel in the hole and turn three times around your axis.

And even ordinary streets become beautiful because of their surroundings:

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A Reflection of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

I know I have overlooked plenty of gorgeous floors and important roads in Italy while I was looking at or taking pictures of other elements, but at least that gives me a reason to visit again. Are there any additional floors and/or roads that you think are memorable and noteworthy?

How to Describe Florence: Henry James’ Impressions

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A Small Street in Florence

Italy, especially Florence, has always inspired authors. To prepare myself for my travels to Florence, I browsed the travel notes of several authors and especially enjoyed Henry James’ Italian Hours (available for free on Gutenberg.org). James visited Italy 14 times between 1869 and 1907, and his writing shows deep appreciation for the Italian people, places, and art. Even though the descriptions were interesting and enjoyable to read before I left for Italy, they were more poignant once I actually had seen what James described. I was able to value the beauty of his comparisons and specific details once I was impressed by the same details. I was moved but was not able to describe the impression as effectively as James. Here are some of my favorite views and descriptions (all from the chapters “Florentine Notes”):

“The street is narrow and dusky and filled with misty shadows, and at its opposite end rises the vast bright-coloured side of the Cathedral.”

Via dei Servi

View of the Duomo at the End of Via dei Servi

“…the white walls of Milan must be likened to snow and ice from their base, while those of the Duomo of Florence may be the image of some mighty hillside enameled with blooming flowers.”

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Top of the Cathedral in Milan

 

 

“The place is the great Florentine Valhalla, the final home or memorial harbour of the native illustrious dead, but that consideration of it would take me far.”

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Basilica di Santa Croce

 

 

“…the large, quiet, distributed town-garden, with the vague hum of big grudging boundaries all about it, but with everything worse excluded, being of course the most insolently-pleasant thing in the world…”

Boboli Garden

Giardino di Boboli

 

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Boboli Garden with the Pitti Palace and Florence in the Background

 

“And the Medici were great people! But what remains of it all now is a mere tone in the air, a faint sigh in the breeze, a vague expression in things, a passive—or call it rather, perhaps, to be fair, a shyly, pathetically responsive—accessibility to the yearning guess. … Time has devoured the doers and their doings, but there still hangs about some effect of their passage.”