Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Auf Wiedersehen, Österreich

My lovelies! I have returned, safe and sound. Sorry Kate, I know you really wanted my Ipod shuffle. But Arbor Day is coming up, so don't fret! I am pleased to announce that Janet and I had a wonderful time, saw many many things, walked many many miles and took many many pictures. I'll give you a brief rundown here of what we did, but I hope to include more stories (and perhaps even a picture or two) in the coming week. All I'll say is, my poor pedicurist is going to have her work cut out for her, because my feet are in pretty bad shape. And there are multiple pictures of me looking confused, which Janet assures me is pretty much my normal expression.

So, here's the schedule with appropriate links.

Friday: Arrived in Wien at 3:30pm, local time. After dropping our stuff, we went out in search of ATM and food. We wound up in Nachtmarkt, where I had a pils and weiner schnitzel. We wound up walking past the Secession Building, up to Albertina Platz, to the Kartnerstrasse pedestrian walkway, where I finally got to eat some strudel and drink some melange. We eventually meandered back to our hotel, located on Margaretenstrasse.

Saturday: We bought our Vienna cards which meant that we spent a lot of time riding the excellent U-Bahn. I seriously heart the U-Bahn - clean, fast, timely, and so easy to follow the map that even a German virgin like me could figure out where I was going. We started out at Stephansdom, which was impressive, though part of me feels ruined for all cathedrals since Aya Sofya. A large amount of the church was destroyed in bombing during World War II, and the Viennese did an impressive job restoring it. Slightly annoying - a great number of historical landmarks were being worked on while we there, which meant they were partially or wholly covered by scaffolding, much of which was plastered with enormous advertisements. Seemed disturbingly American to place advertisements on the scaffolding of monuments, but whatevs.

We then went to Hofburg Palace and the Nationalbibliotek, the latter of which was a highlight for me. Next up, Kunsthistoriche, or the Museum of Fine Arts. For me, the real hero of Kunsthistoriche is the building itself, which was completely impressive. The art was, of course, lovely, although I noticed that the museum does not seem to take as good care of its paintings as some museums... like the Met. Still, they had three by Caravaggio (although the Crowning with Thorns is considered debatably by another), whom I love very much. Of particular note, David and Madonna del Rosario. They also have the largest collection of Bruegels in the world, as well as some Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, and so on. Personally, not a huge fan of Bruegel, but I do generally love Flemish and Dutch painters, so it was an enjoyable stop.

Afterwards, we took the U-Bahn and a bus out to Grinzing. Grinzing is an area of town on the outskirts of the city, where there are many Heurigen (wine taverns). LP laments that Grinzing is where the tourists go these days to sample the Heurigen, and therefore warns that one ought to try another wine district. I suppose it's true that there were other tourists in Grinzing, but Janet and I were the only English speaking ones and everyone in Reinprecht, where we drank our wine and had dinner, was German-speaking. A concern for me on a trip is not to spend too much time around other English speakers.... especially if they are like the annoyingly loud stereotypical tourists sitting in front of us on our Alitalia flight from Rome to Newark. And we did meet some very nice Canadians and a group of music teachers from the south who were in Vienna for the weekend (they teach in Graz), so it's not that I don't enjoy chatting with other travellers, particularly when they speak my native tongue. Anyway, my thoughts on LP and tourists will come later.

Later that night, we stopped at Karlskirche and Karlsplatz, which are lovely at night.

Sunday: A quick stop in Stadtpark, followed by a walk to the Belvedere Palace, which was constructed by Prince Eugen, and now houses an impressive Baroque museum and Austrian art from the 19th and 20th century. The Upper Belvedere was hosting an exhibit called Da Neue Osterreich (The New Austria) which covered the history of the country from roughly 1900 until the present in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Allied Troops leaving Vienna. The exhibit was seriously mindblowing - they managed to explain the history, and in particular did not shy away from Austria's participation in World War II and the Holocaust, combined it with installation art and drew parallels with how the climate effected artists at the time. A-mazing. And in one of the final rooms, a beautiful collection of Klimts, who is one of my all-time favorites. The Klimts were, not surprisingly, so much more impressive in person. It was quite special for me too, as the Belvedere may lose its Klimt paintings under arbitration that will occur this year because a relative of Adele Bloch-Bauer (dear friend and model of Klimt, to whom he gave several paintings) sued Austria for their return after the Nazis stole the paintings from Adele's husband. In other words, these paintings may not be available to the public for much longer. And that collection is impressive - Adele I and five other paintings, worth about $150 million.

Next, to the Danube Canal, where we took a stroll and I had an incredible grilled cheese sausage. Seriously. It was probably the best wurst I've ever had. We then walked down the Canal until we reached Hundertwasserhaus. If you have an interest in post-modern architecture, it's a must. We then took a long walk, and eventually picked up the U-Bahn to the north city for dinner at Stomach, which is Lonely Planet's pick for best restaurant in Vienna. It was, indeed, fantastic. We had thought about going to a concert, but wound up at Julius Meinl on Grabenstrasse, drinking iced coffee with ice cream floating in it and people watching (didn't hurt that there was an excellent trio of string musicians in the square playing Mozart). We also got to see Peterskirche, before heading back to Margaretenstrasse, where we wound our way to Schikaneder, where there was girl working the music, which was nice to see. There were also interesting visuals, including Yellow Submarine with French subtitles, which Janet enjoyed since Hard Day's Night is one of her favorite movies. Our hotel, and Schikaneder, are located in the Freihaus Quarter, which is allegedly the latest hipster area of Vienna.

Monday: For our final day, we had a full schedule.... errr, unlike the other days? Whatever, I'm dumb. We started out at Schloss Schonbrunn, the summer palace of the Hapsburgs, and also home to the Vienna Zoo and a ridiculously large garden complex. Schonbrunn was teeming with tourists, which made the indoor experience a little grating, but our hike to the top of the hill, with an excellent view of the city, was much more pleasant. Also enjoyable - we learned that Franz Josef (final emperor of Austro-Hungary) was desperately in love with his wife Elisabeth, but she compared marriage to being forced into slavery. And Empress Maria Theresia had 10 daughters - one of them Marie Antoinette. I had forgotten about that.

From there to Staatsoper, or the State Opera House. Sadly, we didn't get to see an opera, since the house is closed to performances in July and August. But, we did get to go on a tour of the building, which includes a bust of Mahler by Rodin.

Next up, the Leopold Museum in MuseumsQuartier. MQ is an area where a lot of locals hang out and it's filled with fountains and bizarro installation art seats. It also includes the Modern Art Museum and a couple of concert halls. Anyhoo, Leopold holds the largest collection of Egon Schiele's work, and the exquisite Klimt Death and Life. When Janet and I lived together, we had a Klimt poster on the wall called The Virgin, which is in Prague. But Death and Life shares many similarities with the painting, so it was great to see it in person. As for Schiele, well I knew almost nothing of him when the trip started, but call me a fan now. It's amazing to me that the man, a former student of Klimt, was so prolific and died when he was 28. I can only imagine what he would have done if he had lived longer. His Death and the Maiden completely blew me away.

Anyway, Leopold had a show called Die Nackt Wahreit (The Naked Truth) about the changing representation of the body in Austrian art in 1900, so named for the Klimt painting of Nude Veritas. It was completely fantastic, well set and lit, and included incredible sketches from Schiele and Klimt, as well as a great collection of Kokoschkas. We left Leopold and headed off to Augustinerkeller for dinner, where I had a fantastic Austrian-style goulash (Janet had the tafelspitz) and managed not to speak English to the waiter. Go me!

We went back to MQ's Halle G for what we thought would be a piano concert of Stravinsky, but was a rather strange performance piece entirely in German. The pianist, Barto, was actually only in half the performance. It was certainly an experience, though not what we had in mind when we decided to see a concert.

So, there you have it. My trip. Hopefully I'll thow in some funny stories in the coming week, and there will definitely be more on the food and beer.


  1. glad you are back! can't wait to see pictures!

  2. Paul the Impatient3:10 PM

    Welcome back! Now go read Harry!

  3. Anhabelle3:59 PM

    Seriously am glad that you are back. I realized while you were gone, "How does one split a Mah Jong set?" I could just imagine the battle that G-Doll and I would have over who got the Red Dragon tiles to remember you by! :-) Sounds like a fabulous trip!!!

  4. Welcome home! I missed you.

  5. Marc, currently in Krakow1:59 AM

    What an amazing trip! I definitely didn't do all that when I was there.....