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.

Fashion Floege

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.

Marker

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

Lake

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.

Harbor

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

 

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Most Fragrant Season in California

A short period of about three to four weeks in early spring (the length is dependent on the weather) is my favorite season in Northern California; it is also the most fragrant season. It is orange-blossom season! Well, it is actually citrus-blossom season but that just does not have the same ring.

In late winter and early spring, all the effort and time to wrap my citrus trees on cold nights to withstand the few hours a night of temperatures close to freezing are finally paying off as the the first trees start to bloom and envelope the backyard in their potent, sweet smell.

Covered Orange Tree

The daily ritual before cooler winter nights – swaddling the citrus trees in tarps and blankets. Once they are taller than 7 feet, the endeavor becomes quite challenging.

The fragrance is hard to describe, and none of the scents captured in bottles ever come close to the real thing; the smell is sweet and potent, even stronger at night, and very different from the smell of an orange fruit or peel. In my backyard, the limes and mandarins bloom first, then come the grapefruit trees, and last but not least the orange trees that seem to do double duty by still carrying some fruit while already blooming and working on this year’s crop.

Blossoms

Close-up of Blossoms

The white, star-shaped flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the backyard, and at times “air traffic” becomes too busy for me to sit nearby.

Sure, the golden-orange California poppies cover the hillsides in spring and acres and acres of almond trees blossom in the Central Valley, but nothing is quite as impressive as the aroma of orange blossoms. Walk through the suburbs or through downtown, and you are sure to catch a whiff of the sweet smell every couple of hundred feet or so. This is the most fragrant time of the year in California and nothing quite compares for me.

PS: Last spring came close to this experience as  I spent a weekend in Sorrento, Italy and on Capri, where I was  embraced by the fragrance of lemon blossoms every corner I turned (and that might be the reason why I enjoyed that trip so much).

Impressions of Austria

It has been over a month since I last posted; time flies – especially when I am back in the classroom and papers waiting to be graded are  piling up. I also needed to take a break from posting since my blog postings could have easily turned into a rant about missing Italy  in particular and Europe in general. And since the semester has started again and I have met a new group of students, I am once again the oddity – the Austrian teaching in the US. Of course, this also means that I hear a version of the question “So what is it like – this Austria?” Well, how can one describe a whole country in a couple of minutes?

I try to avoid the well-known impressions of Vienna and Salzburg and of course Sound of Music (which very few Austrians know about; I learned about Sound of Music from a Scot on my semester abroad in Scotland, and this knowledge has come in handy when talking with Americans about Austria – but that is a story for another time). Well, so what is Austria?

Austria is centuries-old castles and grand palaces.

Schloss Parz

Courtyard of the Castle in Parz

Lambach Abbey

Interior of Lambach Abbey

 

Austria means rugged mountains hugging crystal-clear lakes.

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Traunsee in Upper Austria

 

And since Austria is small, these sights are compressed to have castle, and mountains, and lake all in one view.

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Lake Traunsee and the Castle Ort on an Island in the Lake

 

Austria is orderly.

Hearts in Gmunden

Padlocks on a Specially Designed Strcuture on the Banks of Lake Traunsee

 

And most of all, Austria is colorful; it is rich greens.

Danube

Schloegener Schlinge of the Danube – The Danube Loop by Schloegen

 

It is ultramarine and chartreuse in lively contrasts.

Countryside

Austrian Countryside

 

And when the skies are grey, the buildings stand out in vibrant orange, burnt sienna, and playful pinks.

Melk

Orange-Yellow Facade of Melk Abbey

Austrian House

Rust-Colored Townhouse in Obernberg am Inn

Staircase Melk

Pink Staircase Inside of Melk Abbey

So most of all, Austria for me is color; that is the five-second answer to what Austria is like.

Enchantment: Impressions of Venice

I was not sure what to expect of Venice; I was not that excited to go and see it. I thought I already knew it well enough even though I had never visited since pictures and descriptions of Venice abound. How could Venice surprise me if I had seen plenty of pictures of it on Instagram and Pinterest, in commercials, and as cheap posters of romantic sunsets over the town?

Sunset Venice 2

Sun Setting over Venice and Campanile di San Marco

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Sunset in Venice

 

But even with this lack of excitement – or maybe because of it – Venice surprised me and turned out to be one of my favorite towns in Italy. I was sure this would not happen – it was too touristy after all, but it did enchant me. If I thought Florence was difficult to describe (see previous post), Venice and its surprising appeal seems even more difficult to put into words.

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A View of a Canal in Venice

 

Venice is too well-known even to those that have never visited and it has inspired plenty of artists. As American writer Henry James in his Italian Hours addresses this issue, “Venice has been painted and described many thousands of times, and of all the cities of the world is the easiest to visit without going there. Open the first book and you will find a rhapsody about it; step into the first picture-dealer’s and you will find three or four high-coloured ‘views’ of it.” So how can this city still be surprising and enchanting? Isn’t the unexpected or novelty truly enchanting? Even though we think we know Venice even if we have never visited, Venice is difficult to compare and to completely “get.” German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe mentions in Italian Journey that “Venice can only be compared with itself. The large canal, winding like a serpent, yields to no street in the world, and nothing can be put by the side of the space in front of St. Mark’s square – I mean that great mirror of water.” Venice is a “strange island-city, this beaver-like republic” (Goethe).

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco with the Basilica di San Marco and Campanile

 

This strangeness and the city’s many sides accentuated by the quick change of light and reflection in the water are some of the reasons for Venice’s charm. It is hard to forget this city. As James explains, Venice – “the creature varies like a nervous woman, whom you know only when you know all the aspects of her beauty. She has high spirits or low, she is pale or red, grey or pink, cold or warm, fresh or wan, according to the weather or the hour. She is always interesting and almost always sad; but she has a thousand occasional graces and is always liable to happy accidents. You become extraordinarily fond …. The place seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and conscious of your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a perpetual love-affair.”

Basilica di San Marco

The Top of Basilica di San Marco in Venice

One of the many charms is of course the water, the many canals and the numerous small steeply-curved bridges across them. Venice without the water would still be interesting but not as unique. The water reflects the light, the colors, and the mood; it prohibits the use of cars and Vespas and thus creates a quietness that does not exist in any other city.

Small Canal in Venice

Small Canal and Bridge in Venice

What can be more stereotypically touristy than a gondola ride? But if in Venice and a tourist, I felt I had to give in and hire a gondola. And once I again I did not expect much; after all, it was just a small boat. And once again Venice and its experiences surprised me. The gondola ride was one of the highlights of the weekend, maybe because it was still early and we stayed mostly in small canals: “The gondola moves slowly; it gives a great smooth swerve, passes under a bridge, and the gondolier’s cry, carried over the quiet water, makes a kind of splash in the stillness. A girl crosses the little bridge, which has an arch like a camel’s back…. The pink of the old wall seems to fill the whole place; it sinks even into the opaque water. …On the other side of this small water-way is a great shabby facade of Gothic windows and balconies – balconies on which dirty clothes are hung and under which a cavernous-looking doorway opens from a low flight of slimy water-steps. It is very hot and still, the canal has a queer smell, and the whole place is enchanting” (James).

Gondola and Bridge

Gondola Passing through a Small Bridge in Venice

 

Small Canal

Gondola Ride through a Small Canal in Venice

 

It does not take much to enjoy Venice; just take the time to look and soak in the light and colors because “the mere use of one’s eyes in Venice is happiness enough, and generous observers find it hard to keep an account of their profits in this line. Everything the attention touches holds it, keeps playing with it — thanks to some inscrutable flattery of the atmosphere. Your brown-skinned, white-shirted gondolier, twisting himself in the light, seems to you, as you lie at contemplation beneath your awning, a perpetual symbol of Venetian ‘effect’” (James).

Gondolas

Gondolas Maneuvering through a Small Canal in Venice

I remember the light glittering on the water, the waves rocking the boats, the water slapping against hulls and steps, and the smell of the damp walls battling the saltiness of the seawater. But it always comes down to the light as “the light here is in fact a mighty magician and, with all respect to Titian, Veronese and Tintoret, the greatest artist of them all. You should see in places the material with which it deals – slimy brick, marble battered and befouled, rags, dirt, decay. Sea and sky seem to meet half-way, to blend their tones into a soft iridescence, a lustrous compound of wave and cloud and a hundred nameless local reflections, and then to fling the clear tissue against every object of vision” (James).

Light

Light Reflecting off the Water – View from inside the Bridge of Sighs

 

#doorporn in Italy: Odd Hashtag and a Shared Attention to Details

Sure, I am impressed my Michelangelo’s David and by Botticelli’s Primavera, two of the most famous pieces of art in Florence, but often I am more fascinated and entertained by the smaller details that help make this town so beautiful. I love ceilings and often spend more time looking up than at the sculptures or paintings in a museum here (see previous post). I also am fascinated by the doors and the doorknockers especially here in Florence but actually all places I have visited in Italy. So I was excited and surprised to learn that my fascination for beautiful doors is shared by many it seems and has created two popular hashtags on Instgram and other social media: #doorportrait and #doorporn.

The hashtag “doorporn” does seem a little overenthusiastic, but doors do deserve to be highlighted. Of course, there are the famous doors that are in art books and guide books, such as the doors of cathedrals and of course the Baptistry in Florence.

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Detail of the Doors of the Cathedral in Milan

But even average house doors in small alleys and not even close to any famous sites are worth a second or third look. The size and shapes vary and the colors range from perfectly faded shabby-chic pastels to bright greens and sumptuous dark browns. Some doors are so large that they are not even opened completely on an everyday basis, but a smaller, “normal-size” entryway has been cut into the large door to make it even possible to easily use the door.

 

I appreciate the color combinations of the doors with the house color.

At a closer look, smaller details such as doorknockers are also fascinating on their own (not sure why they do not have their own hashtag as described above).

And this hashtag seems to be limited to doors only and ignores the equally or maybe even  more exciting garden gates since they usually reveal a view into a lush garden or onto a villa.

Gate in Sorrento

Gate to a Backyard in Sorrento

I still stop for fabulous doors and doorknockers and take a few seconds to admire them, but I have given up on taking pictures of all the ones I stop at; I quickly had too many photos and stopped far too often on my walks to work or the train station.

Where Is the Grass in Florence?

Florence city center does not have many trees or live plants, not even a small weed or a few blades of grass. Now that it is March, a few shops and restaurants have put out pots with (sometimes fake) bushes and flowers, but unless an inner courtyard has a few trees (most likely also in pots), there is not much plant life. For the first weeks, I had not noticed it much – too many views of the Duomo peaking through an opening, another alley that could be out of a movie, or another large sculpture. But whether I noticed it consciously or not – I did miss (and still miss) plants – especially large trees and grass. Why is there no grass? Back home in California, grass (wild grass) is stubbornly pushing its way through little cracks in the driveway and makes use of any half-inch of dirt next to a road. Here – nothing.

If you want green and plants, you have to visit one of the gardens in Florence or at least get on the “other” side of Florence, where some houses actually have a backyard.

Mozzi

Wall with the Mozzi Family Emblem out of Colorful Rocks in the Bardini Garden

I visited one of these gardens – Giardino Bardini – on a rainy Sunday early afternoon, which meant that I had the grounds mostly to myself. A few couples were risking the walk under threatening rain clouds, but I would not see a person for half an hour at a time (which is nearly impossible in Florence outside one’s apartment). The garden offers a great view over the city with of course the Duomo as its focal points, but also a view to the hills surrounding Florence as well as the Basilica San Miniato del Monte (supposedly San Miniato was beheaded in the center of Florence but then decided to pick up his head and walk up into the hills to rest there – and that is where the basilica was built).

View Mineato

View of Basilica San Miniato al Monte from the Bardini Garden

View over Florence

View over Florence from the Bardini Garden

I am sure in spring and summer the orchards, rose gardens, and Wisteria pergolas are beautiful, but I was just excited to see grass, a few daffodils, and a few bushes that were blooming. And there were birds chirping and the water of the Dragon Canal rushing! I was ready to hug a tree (maybe I am more West Coast than I realized), but at a minimum I had to touch the grass and smell the crisp green scent of broken blades of grass. Who knew that one could miss the smell of grass (after only five weeks).

Dragon Canal

Dragon Canal in Bardini Garden

Bardini Garden Grass

Daffodils are starting to bloom in the Bardini Garden.

The entrance to the gardens with the museum in the villa on the grounds (see previous post) is 8 Euro. The opening hours on the website were not the ones I was told when I bought the ticket (the gardens closed much earlier), so keep this in mind, but it might have been because of the rainy weather. For more details, see the official website.

Staris Brandini

Stairs Going up through the Flower Garden of the Bardini Garden

Brandini Garden

Brandini Garden – Statues of Vertumnus and Pomona

 

Venice Vs. Florence

I did not know that I had started to tire a little of Florence (yes, that is indeed possible) until I left for a trip to Venice and came back more relaxed and with an extra spring in my step. Much of my needed break from Florence had to do with the weeks and weeks of rain we have had; and even if it had not been raining in Florence, it had been grey and gloomy. I am used to bright sunshine in February in California, and the grey moody weather was taking its toll on my energy. Florence’s old center is also dominated by hard surfaces – all stone with not even the tiniest lawn or even trampled earth around the roots of a tree in the middle of a square or squished between a house and the road.

Venice Sunshine

Sunshine Reflecting Off the Water in Venice

Venice in contrast felt like a spa weekend: not only was it sunny but the sun was also reflected off the water – twice the sparkle and brightness after weeks of grey. Florence for me is the noise of tourist groups wandering below my apartment, scooters rattling over the cobblestones at neckbreaking speed, and drunken partygoers bellowing in echoing alleys. Venice, however, was the sound of lapping waves and seagulls. It took me a while to figure out the relative silence – no cars, no large city buses, and no scooters. Not even any bikes! And February meant fewer tourists, which meant even more peace and quiet.

Venice February

Few tourists visit Venice during the week in mid-February.

Instead of the cobblestones of Florentine roads, the shimmering waves of the canals created a soft surface and with their movement seemingly alive. Taking a vaporetto (water bus) reminded me of holidays on the seaside, and the gleaming wooden motorboats and gondolas created the impression that everyone here was on holiday. Gliding nearly completely noiselessly along in a gondola through small empty back canals felt like meditation. The waves rocked the gondola soothingly while our gondolier hummed Italian folk tunes (no, we did not pay extra for the singing; some people whistle while they work, and I guess our gondolier liked to hum).

 

Florentines and tourists alike are not willing to make room on the tiny sidewalks in Florence. A walk home on busy evenings often seems like a game of chicken – who is willing to get out of the way before we actually run into each other? Pedestrians in Venice seemed more relaxed and willing to make room; since there were no cars or bikes, even smaller alleys seemed large enough to hold pedestrians (at least during off-season). In Florence, even the smallest alley is a passageway for at least scooters and bikes.

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Another Quiet Canal in Venice

In Florence, the dominant building color is ocher, or maybe better called a Tuscan brownish yellow. Venice seemed brighter. That may have a lot to do with the weather since it was actually sunny, but a lot also with the reflective surface of the many waterways. Buildings were also brighter – many more white accents on the outside, bright red and orange walls, seaside-green shutters, and red-and-white or azure-and-white striped mooring poles.

Venice Canal

Quiet Side-Canal in Venice

While Florence seems to have party dwellers till early into the morning, Venice seemed to fall asleep a few hours after sunset as very few people were walking the streets at night as the full moon rose and the cold wind from the Grand Canal whipped open coats and jackets.

Venice Sunset

Sunset in Venice from a Vaporetto (Waterbus)

Back from Venice, I can still feel the rocking motion of imaginary waves when I close my eyes as my body has adjusted to the motion of rocking boats over the last few days. I feel more mellow, and even the Florentine sidewalk congestion did not bother me on my walk back from the train station to my apartment; I feel like I just returned from a spa weekend as my sun-kissed cheeks glow and as I move through the throng of people with zen-like calmness (lets see how many days that will last).