Sunday, August 16, 2009


Warning: There are a lot of pictures and writings about Vienna! You might want to get yourself a coffee (or tea as I prefer) and settle in for a bit.

Ah, Vienna. Vienna was lovely, although we were a little concerned when we arrived at the train station because of all the construction going on. But we've learned not to judge a place by it's train station - it's usually not a very good indicator. For example, Torquay had a very run-down station but a beautiful little city. So we arrived at the station, waited 1.5 hours for Robyn, and all headed off via the U-Bahn to our hotel. The U-Bahn is basically German for "subway," in case you were curious. So we took the U-Bahn, got a tad lost on the way to the hotel but made it in one piece. Our hotel was pretty darn nice! As it should have been, it was friggin expensive (by our standards). It was either €60 for a crappy hostel or €74 for a very nice hotel. I decided we should splurge a bit... We had a bathtub (which Robyn made good use of), AC, internet, and even free tea and coffee in the lounge. Tea and coffee is super-common in the UK, even inside the hotel rooms, but it's hard to come by in Europe. After settling in we decided we needed to see some sights that very evening as we were only staying two nights. Our hotel was right next to a big palace complex called Schönbrunn Park. It's one of a few palaces that the Habsburg family (the dynastic rulers of Austria) used. It's also where Mozart and Salieri had a famous musical competition. We snuck into a "no public access" area and saw the very hall where they would ahve performed! Ok, so when I say "snuck" I mean that we wandered in and didn't realize it was actually a "restricted are" until we saw the sign on the way out. But they did leave the door wide open to the place, so it can't have been a big deal. The whole palace complex is really impressive. There's a giant, open courtyard with a couple of fountains where you first enter. Then you make your way up to the large, long building in front of you and head to the gardens out back. The gardens are all manicured into groups of different colored flowers making up large designs on the ground. Surrounding the gardens on all sides are wooded parks that have fountains, gazeebos, more gardens, and even a labyrinth. And straight down the path leading from the main building is a large pond with a grand fountain at it's head. Unfortunately the fountain wasn't on while we were there, but I can imagine it's lovely. And if you head up the hill past the fountain you come to the Gloriette. The Gloriette is another building that is covered in columns and pillars and carvings and big glass windows. It sits at the top of the hill just looking beautiful. You can pay to go up to the roof where there's a balcony with what I imagine are great views, but just standing on the hill gives you great views already so we chose to stay on solid ground. You can see the whole city, with rooftops spread out all the way to the hills. You can also see the designs made with the flowers from the garden below which is fun since you can't see them while you're standing right next to the garden. It's worth the climb up that hill to see the views! We walked through some of the parkland and made our way to the Orangerie for a look. It seemed to be in the process of renovation so there wasn't much to see there. After all the walking we were ready for food so we decided on an Italian/Austrian place nearby. We spent too much money (beers in Austria are no longer $0.50 like in the Czech Republic, boo) and headed back to the hotel for the night.

Day two (or day one depending on how you look at it I suppose) was crammed with things to do. First was a tour of the Vienna State Opera House. The building is fairly impressive from the outside and inside, although perhaps not as grand as one might expect. We learned why on the tour we took. Back in WWII, 80% of the place was destroyed by some American bombardment - eeps. When they rebuilt everything it was during the 50's and they didn't have money like back in the days of the Emperors reign, so they couldn't afford to make it as grand as it was before. We saw a few intermission halls (where people hang out during intermission, duh) that showed the difference between the original and the rebuilt sections of the building really well. One was oozing with detail - every surface was ridged with gold trim, the ceilings and walls were painted with different scenes or patterns, two opulent fireplaces topped with mirrors, busts of 20 or so composers built into the top of the walls, etc. Compare that with one of the rebuilt halls that was lined in marble with a simple ceiling and 50's style wall murals and furnishings. Still elegant, but certainly on a different level than the previous hall. When we saw the theatre itself it was actually some what anticlimactic. It's quite small compared to other theatres we've been to such as the Royal Albert Hall, or even the Kravtiz Center back in Palm Beach. Actually, I want to call it a very small auditorium. And it too was rebuilt after the war, so it's not as extravagant as it one was. I saw a "before" picture at their museum and it looked as though it was pretty incredible back in it's day. Stupid wars! They ruin beautiful, important, historical things. So unfortunate. We also saw the backstage area. Well, maybe I should say "we saw the stage from the side wings." It sounds like they have a pretty good hydrolic system of lifts and platforms for moving sets around. There are a bunch of big platforms on the stage that lower 12 meters underground so they can quickly get sets off stage. And there's a system set up for lifting backdrops up into the ceiling 12 meters so they're hidden from view too. It was a good tour I thought. After the tour we saw their museum which houses a few costumes, props, and manscripts from various performances. Nothing noteworthy though, although Robyn did find a picture of the singer whose master class she'll be taking on the "wall of fame." Kinda cool. Next we tried to check out another theatre called the Musikverein, but it was closed for the day! I think they have some original manuscripts from a few composers and have had a number of famous "first showings" there. Too bad it was closed... So we moved on and passed by a big, beautiful church called the Karlskirche. The highlight there was a little dog swimming in the pond out front. Everytime his paw made a big splash he would start barking as he tried to bite the flying water. So cute! We also saw that make-out couple from the train I mentioned in the previous blog. They walked on through the square there, hand in hand. How weird!

We tried to find another theatre next: the Freihuas. A very kind resident stopped to ask us if we needed help (because we had our noses buried in a map) and pointed us in the right direction, yet we still didn't manage to actually find it. It would have been neat to see where Mozart's Magic Flute was supposed to have premiered, but instead we found a busy street market filled with fruit and vegetable stands, oil and vinegar stands, dried fruits and nuts, butchers, fishmongers, drinks, food, etc. It was a great market! I wish we had more places like that in the US. At the end of the market was an interesting building called Secession Building. It's just fun because of the big "fluffy" gold sphere on it's roof. So we snapped a few pictures as we passed by on our way to the Hofburg Palace complex. Like Schönbrunn Park, it's made up of a bunch of buildings used by the Habsburg family and is massive. I don't know what all the different buildings were but I know that the National Library and the Crown Jewels are in the area. We even saw a horse drawn carriage with what I think was a freshly married bride and groom, still in their wedding get-up. Over the tops of the buildings we could see the tall, intricate spires of what we assumed was a huge church in the distance. We decided to follow the spires and see what it was. Walking through a few small parks we eventually found ourselves in front of the spired building, surrounded by lively music and a host of temporary little restaurant stands. Wondering what on earth the big event was, we discovered a giant projection screen set up right in front of the building (which we discovered was City Hall) with hundreds of chairs and bleachers for watching. Turns out it was for the Music Film Festival where they show different operas and ballets outside in the evening during the summer. I assume you just come early, claim a chair, and eat dinner and have drinks while watching an opera on the screen. How friggin cool is that!!! We vowed to come back at 9:00 to see the ballet that was playing that night, but we never did make it. We were so beat by the time we got to the hotel... But there's still lots to tell you about before I get to the end of the day!

So next was Beethoven Pasqualatihaus. It's supposed to be where Beethoven lived a few years of his life and where he composed his 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th symphonies, as well as Fidelio and Fur Elise. In actuality, the museum is not in the same apartment he would have lived in and pretty much all the items on display were not originals. Oh well, it's the idea that counts I guess? It was still neat to see what sort of place he would have lived in. I have to feel sorry for him if he was there in the summer because it was ridiculously hot! It would have been miserable sitting around in the heat of the summer composing at your piano in a stuffy little apartment. But maybe to escape the heat he might have attended the nearby church that we went to next: Votivkirche. Nothing special, just looked pretty. After that we took the U-Bahn to yet another church called Stephansdom. We got to go inside this one, although we couldn't go any further than the last row of seats unless we paid for a tour. This church is home to the catacombs that house the innards of the Habsburg deceased. Apparently when they died they had their hearts entombed at one church, their innards at another, and their bodies at yet another church. So Stephansdom was home to their innards. I would have so liked to see them too, but the catacombs were closed that day. Mozart House was the next stop and after much debate we decided to buy tickets and check it out. To be honest it was fairly boring. Like at Beethoven's house, pretty much everything was a reproduction - there were a lot of photocopies housed in glass cases. The audio tour was pretty dry, so that didn't add much to the experience either. The only actually interesting part was the house it was in. It was actually where Mozart had lived and walked and eaten and composed. The views outside were the views he would have looked at. We walked in his very footsteps! By the time we were done walking in his footsteps, our feets were very tired, but we pushed on and saw one last church: Dominikanerkirche. From the outside it looks pretty boring, but inside it's incredible with all it's sculpted walls and ceilings covered with paintings. We were there during some sort of service I think because they were just chanting over and over together. There were only about seven people, but they were dedicated. One would say a phrase (the woman who was the "leader" had a very croaky voice, like a witch as Robyn put it) and then they would all repeat it. Over and over. I know hardly anything about my own upbringing in the Methodist church, so I certainly don't know anything about Catholicism, which is what I assume their religion was. We were so tired, but still managed to go to the train station to buy advance tickets to our next stop, Munich, and kebaps (aka gyros). We made it back to the hotel by 7:00PM or so. That would mean that we were out and about from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Maybe it's just me, but that's a long day! And we never made it to the Zentralfriedhof which is the cemetary where Beethoven, Brahms, Gluck, Salieri, Schmidt, Schoenburg, Schubert, and the whole Strauss family are buried or commemorated. We said we would go early the next morning before we checked out, but that didn't happen!

I have to say that shops closing at 6:00 PM is getting on my nerves. I get hungry after 6:00! I want food! But they're not open, gah. And there's still this thing where you don't cross the street unless the green walk signal is lit. There can be no cars in sight and yet people will stand there and wait for the walk signal. Robyn made me laugh by saying that crossing without a signal is like "walking around topless" in the states. I guess it's just a taboo thing to do! As for Vienna, it's certainly a bustling town with a lot of old buildings still standing. It's like the whole city is a historic district. It's a really beautiful city though, and it deserved more than one day to see it all. But I say we did a whole lot in our 1.5 days...

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