“You mean to say that I’m more at home here, among the birds and the flowers and the wind that moves through the trees like a restless sea…More at home here than in Vienna in all your glittering salons gossiping gaily with bores I detest, soaking myself in champagne, stumbling about to waltzes by Strauss I can’t even remember?”
Ah, Vienna. The Internet set me up to be slightly disappointed – many reviews talked about how spread out the city is, how underwhelming the architecture is, and how the environment is just off from the rest of Europe. And had the weather not been so stormy, I might have found it in my heart to disagree. But as it is – my time in Vienna was more anxious and frustrated than anything.
It would be hard to expect any trip – especially one of over three weeks (today marks two weeks since leaving home) – to be smooth sailing the whole way through. And I’m almost grateful to happened in Vienna, where my only true goal was to see the opera (indoors). I spent some time in bed catching up on sleep, connecting with friends via Skype and Facetime, and working on projects for back home.
HOWEVER – I did manage to visit a few places on my Vienna bucket list before moving on. One of these was the Art History Museum – more famous for its beautiful architecture than anything else. I saw paintings by Velazquez (PHS Spanish veterans – he did Las Meninas – think small children), sculptures of Roman and Greek gods, and relics from ancient churches.
The people of Vienna truly love their art. The Palace of Belvedere is more an art gallery than anything else, and had it not been storming the grounds would have been delightful to walk around. As it happened, I had my head down, hood up, and feet moving to get from Upper to Lower Belvedere.
I also saw St. Charles Cathedral, complete with a ride in an elevator to the top for a “panoramic view.” It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – especially since the top was only a small wooden platform and the windows had heavy screens over them. But the interior of the church was outstanding.
On the second day in Vienna, I almost packed it all in to head back to the hostel, curl up in bed and either read or watch Netflix in anger. I was also very tired at this point (which definitely contributed to “the mood”). But I passed a map on my way out of the Art History Museum that showed me the way to the old Vienna Library. The entire trip ended up being worth it because of the half hour I spent wandering around this enchantment. Unlike the Baroque Library in Prague, visitors can actually walk around in the room; they just can’t cross the rope to actually touch the books. I loved imagining servants using the hidden bookcases to come in to light fires in the morning, or the aristocratic families inviting friends over for a Christmas lunch. (Yes, I did just rewatch Downtown Abbey – how did you know?)
I tried the Literaturmuseum (Literature Museum), but all the exhibits were in German, and it turns out not many Austrians have made huge contributions to the literary world. I got very excited when I saw Proust at one point – but then my translation told me that it was an Austrian copying Proust’s style. Points for trying.
In the evening of my last day, I saw Carmen at the Vienna Royal Opera House. Earlier that day I had taken a guided tour, so I had access to the set-building and seating area where I would not be able to go in the evening. My seats were – in baseball terms – nosebleed seats, but I could see the stage nonetheless. The opera Carmen reminded me of a Shakespeare play – you really have to get behind the two lovers or you will come away thinking it was a silly plot line. I didn’t realize this until the end, when I understood that the audience is supposed to want Carmen and Jose to end up together – not Micaela and Jose. Despite this, the music and singing were outstanding. I could not have asked for a better introduction to opera in general, and I hope to someday see The Magic Flute because our tour guide referenced it so many times.
The most important part of any Viennese experience, though, is the cafes. I went to three – though the second doesn’t really count. My first was to Cafe Sperl, featured in the movie Before Sunrise. I got apple strudel at another bloggers recommendation and coffee – fantastic on both counts. The second was to escape the rain, and I didn’t even catch the name. It was a Greek place outside of Belvedere – wonderful pasta though (Don’t judge, I needed something homey). The third was Cafe Landtmann, which I almost left because it seemed to fancy for someone like me – until I saw a group of runners sitting around in jogging outfits. I decided I was fine. Here I had a true breakfast – the best eggs benedict ever (I think soft boiled egg instead of poached), and hot chocolate.
Now that I’ve finished writing this post, I’ve realized that maybe my heart isn’t so turned against Vienna as I thought. Will I come again? We’ll have to wait and see.
Two weeks down, nine days to go until I start orientation!