Gothic Glory

Deep within the picturesque Upper Austrian Muehlviertel, a quaint church towering over its green rolling hills houses one of the largest gothic carvings in Europe.

Fame about this gothic winged altar, the Kefermarkter Flügelaltar, had spread across the lands since its completion in the late 15th century.

Grand Winged Altar

Always wanting to visit the church housing this masterpiece, we headed into the dreamy hills on this glorous fall day to the sleepy town of Kefermarkt close to Freistadt.

Lord Christoph von Zellking who lived in the nearby Weinberg castle commissioned the church, which was completed in 1476. In 1490 he gave order for a winged altar. Carved out of linden wood over a period of seven years, this elaborately carved masterpiece stands of a total height of 44 feet and stretches its wings like a monstrous eagle across a 21-foot distance. The detailed superstructure depicting religious events and many catholic saints showcases an elaborate centerpiece and two side panels. These carved wood panels can be opened and closed like window shutters.

Over the centuries, this rare altarpiece has faced several challenges. After the discovery of damaging furniture beetles in 1852, restoration works have been a frequent occurrence until 1959 when the altarpiece was cleaned and impregnated for the last time. Furthermore, treatments of windowpanes lessened light intrusion to help in preventing future damage to this precious gothic workmanship.

Stepping out of the church into the most magnificant sunshine, the next attraction crowning the nearby hill called to us: Weinberg Castle. Schloss Weinberg Park

Back in the 14th century the ruling nobility had to create an effective system of defense to ward off uprising serfs. With the invention of new weaponry, the castle was fortified with several defense towers. After fortification was further expanded in the 16th century, entrance to the castle was only possible via two drawbridges whose chain slots can still be seen today.

With its imposing central tower and surrounding fortified stonewall and deep moat, Schloss Weinberg is considered one of the most impressive Renaissance castles in Upper Austria. Its origin dating back to 1274, the fortress has been inhabited for 800 years. Since 1986 this historic bastion has been in the care of the Upper Austrian government, serving as an educational facility for music and environmental workshops.

Schloss Weinberg Main Entrance

Ambling across the drawbridge, feeling the wind through my hair, I drifted once more into a daydream; a fantasy about those knights and noblemen living behind those fortified walls. What was their daily routine? How did they live without our modern conveniences? And as I stood there taking in this majestic sight against the blue sky, I was again filled with gratefulness about living in this day and age.

 

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The Iron Curtain

As I’ve often done in the past, every time I visit Austria, I return to Guglwald, a sleepy 50-soul community amidst the rolling hills of Upper Austria along the Austrian/Czech border. Guglwald FelderMy love for Guglwald goes way back to my childhood years when our family spent summers at the border. Until history changed the course of time in 1989, this pristine landscape of lush meadows and pine forests dotted with whitewashed farmhouses marked the end of the Western world, the free world. Because of my Dad’s high government position, back in the sixties, we had privileged access to a vacation flat at the Zollhaus, quite a regal residencec housing the families of the border patrol officers. Guglwald ZollhausDuring those lazy summer days, I learned early about the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, the reasons for watchtowers and barbwire fences. I couldn’t forget the many tales locals shared around kitchen tables; stories of desperate people reaching safety, gunshots ringing in the dead of night. And walking along the border, we knew exactly where Austria ended and the forbidden land began. Being at the border Times have changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The Iron Curtain is history and a memorial on the nearby hillside still keeps reminding mankind of the Cold War era and the importance of living in peace. So this time, during my wellness retreat at the Hotel Guglwald, http://www.guglwald.at,Guglwald_Hotel1I ventured up the hill to visit the memorial.Iron Curtain MahnmalIron Curtain MemorialHere a brief history lesson for those of you unfamiliar with the Iron Curtain. This political boundary was drawn after World War II in 1945, cutting across the European continent from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea. This East-West division brought about the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and divided Europe according democratic systems and communist dictatorships. Countries east of the Iron Curtain were controlled by Soviet ideology and denied contact to the free world of the West. Countries west of the Iron Curtain enjoyed democratic leadership, freedom and alliance to the United States. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Curtain Iron Curtain Barbwire FencePrior to the erection of the Iron Curtain, the Czech/Austrian border region was a prosperous farming region where people lived and moved freely between the two countries as they had done so for centuries. Even after the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Habsburg was dissolved in 1918, life along the border remained unchanged. But the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918 heralded a dramatic change. The rise of nationalism and the ensuing harsh national laws divided the nation. The German speaking population, Sudeten Germans, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudeten_Germans living along the vast border region, called Sudetenland, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudetenland were targeted and persecuted. Facing either imprisonment or death, these Germans escaped, losing everything. This humanitarian crisis exploded after World War II. Between 1945 and 1948, refugees flooded neighboring Austria and Germany, hoping to survive amidst the war rubble. After 1948 the abandoned German towns were eventually destroyed. With the establishment of the iron curtain and the allegiance to the Russian communist regime, the producing border farmland became a death zone: a 15-kilometer wide stretch of barbed wires, bunkers, guards, and watchtowers. Guarded WatchtowerThese installations along a well-maintained network of roads and pathways made a continuous supervision of the border possible. Escaping into freedom seemed an almost impossible task. Crossing the death zone meant the following:

 

Crossing the death zone meant the following:

  1. Getting past a barbwire fence (the first marking the entrance to the death zone)
  2. Crossing an active mine field.
  3. Crossing a stretch of prepared soil for easy footprint exposure
  4. Stepping over a tangled web ground barbwire
  5. Passing through the final barbwire wall.

Despite these terrible roadblocks, some courageous souls dared the almost impossible journey. Risking their lives, they moved by night and were lucky enough to reach the safety of Austria unscathed.

The communist regime did not succeed fully in suppressing the Czech people. From time to time people in several communist countries revolted to regain their God given freedom. In 1956, the street of Hungary exploded in a national revolt. Change came to Czechoslovakia in January 1968 when Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Dubček. A period of national reforms and political liberalization followed yet again in August 1968, the Soviet Union intervened. Their tanks rolled into the streets of Prague, crushing the promising movement, known as the “Prague Spring.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_Spring resulting in countless casualties, unimaginable misery, and waves of refugees.

In May 1989 Hungary made the first step, starting to tear down the iron curtain on the Austrian border. Czechoslovakia followed suit and with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the freedom movement accelerated. Soon, Austrian, Hungarian, andCzech politicians actively joined the effort, manually cutting the barbwire. Cutting of wireBy December 1989, the border installations were completely removed, borders opened and the region’s natural beauty and freedom was restored once again. Guglwald_BorderEven after the removal of the Iron curtain, it’s forty-year existence stands as a stark warning against dictatorship, persecution, surveillance, and humanitarian crisis. It stands as a symbol of the forty years long division of Europe. All citizens of Europe are encouraged to foster mutual understanding across national borders and to foster freedom and regional security for life in peace and prosperity for generations to come.Guglwald Scenery

Venice of the North

Saint Petersburg. www.lonelyplanet.com/russia/st-petersburg Russia’s second largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990, this splendid showcase of Russian glory, founded in 1703, was the brainchild of Tsar Peter the Great. www.historylearningsite.co.uk/peter-the-great/ A mega tourist draw and the prime destination on our Baltic Sea Cruise www.cruisecritic.com, we dropped anchor in this gem of a city. Formerly knows as Petrograd and Leningrad, Saint Petersburg ruled over the Grand Russian Empire for more than two hundred years until the Russian Revolution of 1917. www.history.com/topics/russian-revolution  The arctic gust welcoming me in Mid June was a quite an unpleasant welcome but all bundled up, my hubby and I ventured out on our first tour, a canal cruise around the Neva River’s historic embankments. 

 

Despite the sunbeams blazing between the whitest cotton clouds, chills crept all over me as our barge bobbed alongside other crowded vessels through an expansive network of canals and bridges. Past majestic mansions, golden spires, and onion cupolas gleaming against the deepest blue, I was caught in a constant 180-degree sweep. As I tried to absorb it all, this splendid history, architectural marvels, Peter the Great’s living legacy, our Russian tour guide Barbara pointed out the city’s resemblance to Italy’s famed Venice, hence St. Petersburg’s nickname, “Venice of the North.” In her dizzying spiel, she rattled off about Peter’s ambitions to build a new capital city, calling upon Europe’s best architects, engineers, artists, and craftsmen. The western style boulevards, enchanting parks and fountains, and sprawling palaces we admired on our tour showcased his majestic vision and power. Throughout history, St. Petersburg moved between periods of upheavals and cultural achievements.

 

The Golden Age of Russian Culture rose from the ashes of the first Russian revolution in 1825, the Decembrist Revolt, after Tsar Alexander I died suddenly. The second cultural wave, the Silver Age, inspired revolutionary ideas in the world of music, dance, and visual arts until Russia entered World War I in 1914. www.worldwar1.com. That year marked the beginning of decades of upheavals, wars, and revolutions, taking Russia headlong into the iron fist of Stalin www.biography.com/people/joseph-stalin-9491723 and the era of Soviet Communism. But in 1989, the tsunami wave of freedom sweeping across the Iron Curtain https://www.britannica.com/event/Iron-Curtain brought about a new dawn. The Soviet Regime fell, new nations emerged, Leningrad became St. Petersburg, and during a period of revival ensuing to this day, the city has transformed to of the most stunning destinations on the planet. Watch out for my next blog about St. Petersburg’s most famed sites.

Christiane Von Linz

Dear Travelsonataincmajor Followers,

I am thrilled to announce the launch of my new website, christianevonlinz.com. Featuring a brand new look, this website offers tons of information and is easy to browse around. From now on I will post my travel stories here, so stay tuned for news by signing up on the bottom of the site.

Thank you and enjoy my new adventures at Googlewood Castle…guglwald_hotel

 

Valle Grande

Did you ever behold the sight of an ancient super volcano? If you haven’t, let Valle Grande in Northern New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains be that place to take your breath away.IMG_8390

That’s what I experienced overlooking this grandiose valley, spreading like a monstrous carpet across the Valles Caldera National Preserve. These 89,000 acres of the National Park System was established after President Clinton signed the Valles Caldera Preservation Act in July 2000.

Gazing across the ancient land, I was sure glad he did. The dome-like hills ringing an enormous grass expanse rendered me speechless. IMG_8780

And so does the multitude of chirping prairie dogs scurrying across this vast caldera. IMG_8778Thirteen miles across, that’s what it said on the Historic Marker. I tried to imagine the titanic explosions that rocked the Jemez Volcanic Field about 1.2 million years ago; the mega volumes of red-hot lava streams, fiery boulders, and flaming smoke plumes creating this dramatic landscape until around 60,000 years ago.

Can you imagine? Gigantic explosions piling up 150 cubic miles of rock and blasting ash as far away as Iowa? It’s further believed that these explosions have been more than 500 times greater than the May 1980 eruptions of Mount St. Helens.

In the quiet of the valley, I couldn’t wrap my mind around such violent forces of nature of which some are still at work. IMG_8764The resurgent lava domes dotting the golden caldera floor landscape are evidence of magma below this dormant fire giant, which feeds the flourishing hot springs in the surrounding red-hot Jemez Mountains.IMG_8797

IMG_8799If you love the outdoors, every season has plenty to offer. From cross-country skiing, moonlight snowshoeing, and sleigh rides in winter, to hiking, stargazing, mountain biking, horse riding, trout fishing, and elk herds viewing in the summer, there’s something for everyone.

So, why wait? Put on your hiking shoes and let the melody of these ancient mountain meadows carry you away.Panaromic B with Logo

Where the American Eagle Flies

Landing at Santa Fe Airport, is like arriving back in time. And that’s not just because of the different time zone here in the mountains. Depending from your point of departure, you either have gained or lost an hour or two, and have touched down at 6, 348 feet (1,935 meters) above sea level in New Mexico’s High Desert that has not seen much change. IMG_8144That’s what you think when the terra cotta control tower takes over the view in your plane window as the American Eagle jet taxis closer up to the terminal… closer… still closer… Your heartbeat off the charts, you hope the wingtip does not hit the huge window you see the plane reflected in. Is this the arrival or the departure terminal out there? It’s just one small building against the bluest blue. I see people with suitcases lined up.
The plane rolls to a halt, doors open, stairs come down, you walk off and straight into the adobe style terminal cum control tower. Charming.
Waiting for my luggage, I look around. IMG_8139One gate. Two check-in counters. This airport was definitely not build to handle big crowds. Nothing like Los Angeles International Airport. Recalling my departure at LAX, I take in this new air; think of my hometown’s Blue Danube Airport. Small. I chuckle. But big compared to this one gate terminal.
As I head out into the sunshine, I look back at the terminal, the tail of the American Eagle gleaming just around the corner. IMG_8147What a sight. I just love my little Santa Fe Airport.