Austria and the Czech Republic – Innsbruck, Vienna and Prague

It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated this site, so I figured it was time for a redesign. I had pretty high hopes for Photosomnia back when I created it, but unfortunately it’s taken a backseat to my daily photoblog over at www.shuttermaki.com. Hopefully this will help breathe some new life into it, and motivate me to update it a little more often. To be honest, this site has taught me that while I still love the art of photography more than ever, my desire to write about it isn’t as great as I had hoped.

Now, on to the pictures. I recently took a trip to Europe spending about a week in Austria, a few days in Prague, and then ended up hiking around the Swiss Alps for a few days. This was quite the trip, and as you can imagine I have a ton of pictures to share. Normally when I go on a trip I’d just post the dozen or so images on my photoblog, but considering I have over 100 I needed to find a more efficient way to get these out for everyone that wants to see them.

All of these were shot on my Leica M6, the vast majority with my Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon, and a handful with my Leica 90mm f/4 Elmar C. I brought 3 different kinds of film on the trip with me, Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 400VC and Ilford HP5+. I’ll take you through my trip in chronological order as best I can remember, so without further ado here are some shots taken at the JFK and Zurich airports at the very start of my vacation. These were shot on HP5+ at ISO 400.

I always shoot the first frame on a roll as a ‘throw away’ shot, just in case I haven’t wound it far enough to get past the burn, but I rather liked this shot for some reason.

I always love the unique lighting and symmetry that you can only find in airports.

This guy was in the midst of keeling over, presumably due to a heart attack.

I had to wait a good 5 minutes for this shot. Of course there are dozens of people checking their flight info every second, except when I have my camera out.

This particular baggage claim area seemed to be closed down. It was completely empty, so it looked a bit strange all lit up.

At this point I had arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, and had boarded a train to the city. Zurich airport is a good distance outside of the city itself, so the train station in the airport has trains departing roughly every 15 minutes that take you there. The Zurich train station is one of the largest stations I have been to so far, and while perhaps not the prettiest, it’s certainly one of the cleanest and most efficient.

Every platform had a nice Swiss clock every hundred feet or so, and the trains were never so much as a second late.

I was sort of in a rush to catch my next train, but since one of my main reasons for travel is photography I can always rationalize making time for some pictures.

It was about 8 or 9 in the morning at this point, so I headed out to my first destination, Innsbruck, Austria. I had seen some pretty cool pictures of this place online, it’s essentially an extremely picturesque Austrian city in a valley sandwiched between two mountain ranges. Apparently it’s a pretty popular ski resort town in the winter, and after spending some time there it’s easy to see why.

After seeing these train/trolleys all throughout my stay in Austria I had grown accustomed to them, but this was my first time seeing one. It was like a cross between a bus, subway and trolley, and it drove on tracks on the street.

One thing I can tell you about Austrians, is they like their bicycles. Every city I went to was full of cyclists.

I noticed after a while that there was a route that most of the cyclists seemed to be following on this particular stretch of road, so I was able to stand here and wait for one of them to come along and whiz right by me.

The next day turned out to be beautiful, so I decided to shoot a roll of Portra.

The architecture in a lot of these newer Austrian cities was fascinating. For the most part, they all have distinct ‘old towns’ and ‘new towns’, each with their respectively awesome architectures.

Again, with the bikes.

This is the picturesque city center in the Old Town of Innsbruck. Seeing pictures taken of this view was one of the main reasons why I decided to visit this beautiful town, and I can assure you it was even more impressive in person.

Next I had entertained the idea of stopping by Salzburg, but I decided to head straight out to Vienna, thinking I’d check it out on my way back if I had time. I have to say, Vienna was one of the nicest, cleanest, friendliest cities I have ever been to. If I was ever going to move to Europe, Vienna is where I’d want to live.

I call this one “The Getaway”.

Vienna had one of the most convenient and accessible public transit systems I had ever seen. Everywhere you look there were buses, subways, trams and trains, taking you any and everywhere you’d want to go.

While wandering around the streets I had come upon the waterfront, where I found a bustling curbside market.

These little newsstands were everywhere, they reminded me of something you’d see back in New York or Philadelphia.

But perhaps even more prevalent were these fast food stands, offering kebabs, brats, fries and pizza for a few Euro each.

This is the Austrian Parliament building on the Ringstraße.

It is yet another example of the incredible architecture in Vienna, which is extremely varied in style ranging from Gothic to Baroque, Roman, Greek and modern.

Speaking of architecture, I happened upon this strange building called the Hundertwasserhaus.

What trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to the famous Vienna Opera House? During the months of July and August the Opera takes a break from performances and offers group tours, so I took this opportunity to check out this amazing venue.

Definitely be sure to check out the full-res version of this panoramic view of the performance hall by clicking on the image.

I really lucked out with the timing on this trip, as I arrived right in the middle of the annual outdoor Vienna Film Festival. The night I went they were playing independent animated movies on a gigantic 5+ story tall projector screen, with a food court set up with a full selection of world cuisine. At first I of course had a beer and bratwurst, and by this point I was really starting to become enamored with the locally brewed Ottakringer beer.

By nightfall this place was absolutely packed with movie-goers, but for now this man seemed to be enjoying the peace and quiet.

The festival had gone on all day, then they started playing the movies when the sun went down. Unfortunately it was a bit too dark for pictures.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna was an incredible sight to behold. It’s not every day you see something like this, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

As amazing as the exterior of this Cathedral was, it’s the interior that really caught most of my attention.

Only having a 35mm lens with me, I had to take a couple pictures and stitch them together to get this ultra-wide viewpoint of the interior. This and the next 3 images are downsized, so if you click on them it’ll open a larger image in your browser.

Be sure to check out the full-size version of this one.

There were so many intricate details everywhere I looked, it’s hard to believe this entire structure, from the tallest spire to the smallest sculpture was handmade hundreds of years before there was even electricity.

While we’re on the subject of incredible Gothic cathedrals, there is another, slightly smaller cathedral I found in Vienna known as the Votive Church. This one however was built in 1879 and is classified as Neo-Gothic, although it could be argued that it’s nearly as impressive than the much more famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral above.

Unfortunately they were renovating most of the exterior, so this overexposed shot of the rear of the church is all you’re going to get out of me. If you want to see some better pictures of the front, check out this Google Image Search.

After spending a few days in Vienna, I decided to head up to Prague. I was really excited to check out this fabled city, so I ticked off a day on my Rail Pass and started making my way to the Wien Meidling train station.

Along the way I checked out the Belvedere Palace, which while beautiful, was a little smaller than I had anticipated.

The Wien Meidling train station was one of the smaller stations in Vienna, but the only one with train to Prague (despite what the ÖBB website says).

(Click on the image for the high-res version)

The first thing I had noticed while traveling through the Czech Republic was that everything looked abandoned and bombed-out. I’m a little too young to remember the cold war, but somehow this country reminded me of what I imagine it must have felt like. Communism ended here in November of 1989, but much of the country still has a very distinct ‘communist feel’ to it, if such a thing exists. Nevertheless, it was a very unique place, like nothing I had ever seen before.

My first impression of Prague was one of amazement, particularly at the train station. Praha Hlvani was one of the coolest stations I have been in.

I had to wait a bit for everyone to clear out to get this shot, but I think it was worth it. At this point in my trip I had done enough waiting around in train stations and whatnot to have picked up a pack of cigarettes to help pass the time. Now don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t smoke, but everyone else in Europe does. I was here to immerse myself into different cultures, so ‘when in Rome’, right?

Check out the larger version of this pano by clicking on it.

As I left the train station, I started to get an idea of what this city was like. Cobblestone streets, Gothic spires and wrought-iron lanterns really set the mood. My first order of business was to just get lost in the twisting alleyways of the Old Town and Jewish Quarter, which was an experience in itself.

I didn’t get too many pictures at this point, due to the sheer number of tourists in this beautiful city. I had never seen anything like it. The entire Old Town district was absolutely packed with people. After a while I happened upon a cheap room, so I dropped my bag off and went out for dinner. The meal I ended up having was one of the most memorable things I have ever eaten. It was an entire pig’s knee on a mini spit, with a myriad of sides, garnishes and sauces. I washed this down with a Pilsner Urquell and then a Becherovka and tonic for a truly Czech experience.

That night I went out for a little stroll, but decided to head to bed early so I could get up before all the other tourists to see if I could get the city to myself for some pictures. This proved to be pretty successful, although for some reason I wasn’t feeling that inspired. I had hyped up Prague to be this amazing city in my mind, and with all the crowds, tourists and a few run-ins with some less-than-courteous locals I had a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. Nevertheless I tried to capture the wonderful atmosphere of the city at dawn while it was completely empty. Empty, of course, except for a couple skeevy prostitutes and some funny drunk kids from Belgium I met that were trying to catch Pigeons.

Seeing the Charles Bridge completely empty was almost surreal, compared to the day before when I could barely make it across due to all the tourists.

One thing I noticed that the Europeans do very differently than Americans, is they will not cross the road unless there is a walk signal on the lights. I presume this is due to European traffic laws being much different than ours, namely the fact that over there, cars have the right of way, not pedestrians.

Apparently this pigeon had the same idea as me, trying to beat the crowds.

Now I’ve never been much of a morning person, so sunrises are few and far between for me. Not to mention they’re much more likely to be seen at the end of a long night as opposed to the beginning of a new day. Being able to capture pictures like this certainly is some pretty good motivation though. Normally I’d try to catch the sunset, but sunsets in Prague are completely different due to the aforementioned tourist infestation.

I heard a story regarding the man who designed this astronomical clock while I was over in Prague. Apparently the officials who contracted him to build it ripped out his eyes after he was done, so he would be unable to build a duplicate in other cities. The man, obviously depressed at not only being permanently blinded, but also due to the fact that he can no longer practice his craft, threw himself into the inner-workings of the clock rendering it useless. If true, this is a pretty amazing story.

That concludes the first half of my trip, but you can read all about the rest of it here.

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