Friday, June 23, 2017

A final stop: London!

We arrived in London during a period of turmoil and sadness. A London Council apartment, the Grenfell Tower tragic fire occurred the day before with an undisclosed and unknown number of the deaths. Moreover, in the recent election, the Conservatives had lost their majority adding to the uncertainty regarding Brexit and the future of the country in the EU.
     One of my main purposes in going to London was to see two old friends, John Townsend with whom I had worked at Building Design Partnership in 1968/69 and Keith Tapping, the former Assistant Regional Director for CMHC who had given me my start by appointing me as CMHC's Special Coordinator for the South Shore of False Creek in the mid-seventies. Keith went on to become Regional Director in Ontario and BC before retiring.
     I am often fond of telling the story of a particularly long lunch with Keith, than involved more fluids than food. Around 4pm I suggested it was probably time for him to go back to the office. He said it wasn't really necessary. "But what if the President calls and you're not there?" I responded. "You could be fired!" Keith responded that the President would never fire him. He had promised his job to too many people!
I'm sure French children were buying clothes like these just before the revolution
While in London I was struck by the many differences and similarities with Vancouver. The differences of course are obvious.
The food floor in Harrods. Breathtaking!
London is a city rich in history with very different streetscapes than found in Vancouver. There is also incredible wealth disparity; far more than in Vancouver which also has significant disparity between the haves and the have-nots. But it was overwhelming in London, as I watched the parade of Bentleys, Jags, Mercedes and very noisy sports cars in the city. I was also struck by the shops....especially the shops for children's clothes.
The similarities? Both cities are struggling with housing affordability. Coincidentally, while I was there Mayor Robertson was holding a Big Conversation for Vancouver residents to put forward their ideas to address housing affordability. Next week London Mayor Sadiq Khan is holding a similar conversation with Londoners. (When it comes to housing affordability, it seems politicians are keen to do whatever it takes to get votes on both sides of the Atlantic.)
We stayed in Park Mansions, just above the Buddha-Bar restaurant and club.
 Since we had the girls with us, and Sally's sister was planning to join us, we stayed in an Airbnb in what can only be described as a very good location. It was across the street from One Hyde Park, one of the most expensive condominium projects in the world. (The units came to market at about 6,000 pounds per square foot, and one unit reportedly sold for 140 million pounds. We were also above the Buddha Bar and next to Mr. Chow. It was very convenient.
John and I were both astonished and delighted to discover that we both were wearing similar Swiss Railway watches to that on display in The Design Museum!
    A few highlights. Touring The Design Museum with John and Lynn Townsend and taking the train to Deal to meet Keith. (Below are a few photos of Keith and his daughter Jasmine taken during an earlier visit, but they haven't changed much. Keith still wears yellow cords whenever I visit!)

A few more images of this amazing city. I can't wait to go back!
One of the things I noticed was security cameras everywhere, which have helped solve a lot of crimes. Will this be the future Vancouver?
We stayed across the road from One Hyde Park, one of the most expensive apartment complexes in the world. Suites sold for 6,000 pounds per sq.ft. with one apartment reportedly selling for 140 million pounds.
There are a lot of eccentric people in the UK, including the fellow who built this houseboat in Deal Kent
I'm not supposed to post family photos on this site, but I like this shot of our family gathering in the pub next door after all meeting up in London

Vienna's Heurigers or wine taverns

   Wanting a more typical Viennese dining experience, I asked our hotel concierge for a restaurant suggestion away from the downtown. “Is there somewhere we can go on the tram that stops outside the hotel?” I asked. He recommended three restaurants 25 minutes away in Grinzing, in the direction of Nussdorf. It was here that we discovered the Heuriger, or wine garden. indoor/outdoor taverns operated by wineries.
     While I had heard of the Vienna Woods, I wasn’t aware that there are numerous vineyards and wineries within Vienna’s urban boundary. While each heuriger is different, many often offer a buffet rather than menu service, that is set up inside where you point to what you want and the price is based on weight.

     Our first visit was to Werner Welser where our server appeared in traditional Viennese dress. I asked for a wine list and she said there was a red wine and a white wine. In another I was offered the choice of new wine or old wine.) While there were other tourists in the restaurant, and some cater to large busloads of tourists, we were told that these places are generally frequented by locals.
     On our last night, we ate at Heuriger Zimmerman, which offers a more conventional restaurant-style service with a menu and wine list. However our server did not speak English which Sally thought was a good sign, but it did make ordering somewhat awkward, with surprising results!
     If you go to Vienna, I highly recommend a visit to one of the many Heurigers.
It wasn't the healthiest food in the world (we did have salads beforehand) but it certainly was tasty!
I was surprised by the traditional outfits worn by servers but discovered this wasn't just for tourists....this is the norm for the locals as well.
Heuriger Zimmerman, one of the better rated restaurants in the area

In the mid-afternooon, an interior view. Shortly after this was taken a busload of 60 tourists from Asia showed up!

Can you tell the old wine and the new wine? More importantly, this is a glass of wine in many of the Heurigers (about 3 euros each)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


One of the highlights of my stay in Vienna was a visit to the Hundertwasser House and Museum. My first exposure to Friedensreich Hundertwasser was in a gallery on the south shore of False Creek development.
I again saw his work in 2014 in les Carrieres de Lumiers in Baux-de-Province (a sound and light show within the limestone caves) along with the work of Klimt. Their works were projected on the walls, floor and ceiling of these limestone caves and it was spectacular.
     Hundertwasser really was a renaissance man who was ahead of his time. He was an architect, artist, ecologist, and much more. His life story is quite incredible. and so is his work.
     In Vienna we visited a museum of his work, where an exhibition by Byrtynsky also happened to be on display and an apartment complex which he designed, in a neighbourhood which is slowly transforming into Hundertwasser Village. Take some time to read about him, and enjoy his work.
     As I was leaving the store I came across these socks which seemed to be very much in his spirit!

A model of an imaginary village incorporating his ideas about integrating buildings with the environment.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Danube and its Canals

Yes, that's a swimming pool in the bottom left hand corner of the photo.
One of Vancouver's greatest assets is its extensive waterfront walkways and bike way system. While some of Vienna's waterfront has been developed for public enjoyment, including large inner-city beach areas, and there are walkways along portions of the river and canals, I was surprised by how much waterfront has not been developed. Many areas are covered in graffiti, or developed as very casual, informal space.
One prominent sight in Vienna are the river cruise boats along the Danube, the second largest river in Europe which flows through ten countries before reaching the Black Sea. While we didn't do a river cruise, we did take a short 2 hour cruise. (Well it was really a one hour cruise with one hour spent going through a lock.) 
As we floated down the river I was surprised to see some little cabins, which I subsequently learned are occupied by people who catch fish with large nets that are lowered into the river. Perhaps I should seek approvals to install something similar in my Deering Island backyard.

Housing related art installations in Vienna

By chance, I came across two fascinating art installations by Erwin Wurm.
I was particularly intrigued by his Narrow House. Here's the explanation and a few pictures: (I liked the work much more than the narrative!)

Erwin Wurm "shrank" his parents' house to reflect the mentality of Austria during the postwar period; the design of the house is typical of the 1950s, but a fraction as wide. The house is furnished with shrunken furniture. This piece was inspired by Wurm's childhood, since he grew up during the 1950s through 1970s in postwar Austria. Growing up, he lived with his parents; his mother stayed at home and his father was a policeman.[8] Therefore, it was difficult to express himself both at school and at home. This limited view has affected Wurm's philosophy of art strongly, and Narrow House is a physical manifestation of it. When the viewers walk through, they feel the tension and claustrophobia that Wurm experienced on a daily basis as a child.


The Fat House can be found on the grounds of the Belevedere Museum. It contains a video projection in which the very same swollen building argues with himself and poses existential questions to the incoming visitor, such as: ‘When does a house become art and who determines that?’
The obese house contains a video projection in which the very same swollen building argues with himself and poses existential questions to the incoming visitor, such as: ‘When does a house become art and who determines that?’