The Cabinet of Natural Wonders – Graz & Wien part 4

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I have now visited it twice, the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, and I’m still not done with it. I have seen the most of the first floor twice and on both times it has been equally exiting. Maybe next time I will make it to the exhibitions of the second floor.

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Go in as soon as it opens. Trust me, you’ll need the whole day.

The tour begins with minerals, rocks and fossils and since it is an imperial collection, there are hordes of those. Last time my hubby said he would not be interested in the mineral collection. Yeah, right… We ended up going through every single display. There are the traditional mineral samples, cabinet after a cabinet, room after a room:

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Green stuff. I can tell where it came from (it reads in the labels) but I have no idea what it is.

While they might seem boring and a bit intimidating at first glance, give them a chance and look carefully. They are quite beautiful and intriguing. Like this miniature ice berg:

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A chunk of Aragonite.

But since it is an IMPERIAL collection, it’s not just exhaustive (after a few hours, quite literally), it is also breathtaking size-wise. For a scientific collection it would be enough to have a comprehensive collection of illustrative samples but an imperial collection is a collection of curiosities. It’s not enough to have all the samples – a bit like having all the Pokémons – you need to have the most impressive samples you can get and there is nothing more impressive than something huge:

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A rock crystal. There is a larger one but it’s so huge it doesn’t photograph well.

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A topaz. Merely 117 kg. For a ring, maybe?

Then there are the gold nuggets with one, the goldenklumpen “Welcome”, weighing precisely 68,98 kg. One needs to be exact with these things. It is a natural history museum after all. Which also means that it’s not just all samples and impressiveness. One of the really interesting displays is the one built in old wall cabinets explaining the etymology and the logic of the naming stuff. Why there is rubintyrann, the vermilion flycatcher in English, or zebramarmor and zebrajaspis. The minerals and stones are displayed next to their namesake birds and other critters and it’s easy to get the idea even when you don’t speak a word of German.

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The fossil collection is just as comprehensive and impressive. My favourite one is this large fossil of Scyphocrinites that used to float around oceans all around the wolrd some 410 million years ago. The amount of detail is amazing! You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

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Scyphocrinites in detail.

The museum also has few replicas of fossils of large animals, like this Devonian fish. The head alone was close to 1,5 m long. The real things are too fragile to be put on display, but the replicas are so detailed that it doesn’t matter much. Besides there are real ones too, even a real dinosaur leg bone that you can touch. It’s worn smooth and polished where the visitors have caressed it.

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It took an hour to draw this. School classes kept on getting in the way.

Last time I had time to draw other stuff too:

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A volcanic bomb about 50 cm high and a tiny trilobite.

What is interesting is that the human evolution and prehistoric cultures are placed in this museum. The evolution part I get, but the prehistoric art is slightly out of place. I suppose it’s an old divide dating back to the imperial days and the 19th century sensibilities that did not see it as art proper. After all, many old natural history museums also house anthropological collections which were considered primitive and therefore belonging within the natural historical and not art. And so the Naturlhistorisches Museum is where you go when you want to see the Venus of Willendorf and other famous prehistoric venuses. I decided to draw it from a slightly different angle to make it more interesting. What a bum!

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Earl Grey too had come to see the famous Venus of W.

When you start too feel tired and drained it’s time to head for the museum café. Seriously. Go and have a cuppa. The whole building is – just as its counterpart, the art history museum, is – a sight so see in itself. Don’t forget to look up while touring the exhibits as every room is decorated according to its theme with paintings and sculptures.  Take a look at the dinosaur room’s statues especially. The café is situated under the central dome which is much more modest than its counterpart across the yard:

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It’s difficult to drink your cuppa while staring at the ceiling.

And the food it delicious. Do try the traditional pancake and apple strudel. The price will double once you walk across to the art historical museum…

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Climbing up a Mountain – Graz &Wien part 3

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I returned to Austria last November but this time with my hubby. We first visited our friends in Graz and climbed our very first mountain ever. That was so awesome! First of all, you need to keep in mind this is my home landscape:

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Here in Keski-Pohjanmaa region anything over 2 meters above the sea level is considered a hill. Seriously. When my hubby first moved here I tried to explain where friend of mine was living. “It’s the red house right on the top of the Koutonen-hill,” I said. My hubby gave me a perplexed look. I offered a more detailed description and he replied: “Oh, I hadn’t realised there is a hill there.”

See what I mean?

So a mountain, even a small one, is a Big Thing in my books.

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Even the relatively gentle slopes around Graz are impressive in my eyes.

The mountain we tackled was the Schöckl. It’s not that high as far as mountains go, but a mountain nevertheless. Our initial plan was to take the cable car up but it happened to be closed for an inspection that day – which we discovered only after we got there. That put a slight strain on our timetable but we still decided to climb up. We took a path that circled around the peak, a route our friends had not taken before even though they are regular visitors. The day was warm and sunny and  the views were quite spectacular. It had rained the day before and there had already been a quite a bit of snow on the Schöckl but the warm Föhn-wind had melted it all away. In fact, the weather felt like springtime!

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The northwards view about 2/3 up to the top.

It’s just mindbogglingly beautiful to look across the landscape from an elevated position. Things in the landscape seem both faraway and oddly within reach. I can understand why they have used the same perspective in classical Chinese landscape paintings. There is something both awe-inspiring and numinous in such a perspective. This is what the Aesthetics’ concept of Sublime was created for.

While perfectly sunny the weather on top was chilling to the bone because of the wind .

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Not quite the highest point but who cares.

We had planned to have a picnic once we reached the peak but it was just too cold and we had to settle for a more shielded spot. Still, the prospect was magnificent, and while the wind certainly made us finish our meal quickly, the sun was also getting closer and closer to the horizon. We decided to get a more direct route down which also meant a more steep descent. We needed to hurry if we were to get past the steepest parts before sunset. It does get dark quite quickly – especially in comparison out lingering sunsets in Finland.

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The southward side and views to the south-east.

Seeing the sun set from a mountain is one of the most spectacular sights. To watch how the blue, cold, and mysterious shadows creep across the landscape below you, and how the green landscape turns into a sea of blue hue with pinkish-orange islands of hills and smaller mountains. That’s when the air, the actual atmosphere itself becomes somehow more tangible. You can see and experience the vastness of the planet, that the space between things-of-the-world is not a void but a substance.

I can hardly wait for the next time.

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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