A Wiensy Viennese Visit

Vienna is famous for the music heritage and its place at the center of the once great Hapsburg Empire.  I allotted two full days and a night to the city and would absolutely be maximizing both of these things.

As soon as I checked in and deposited my stuff in my Ruthenstiner room, I was off.   It was about a 30 minute walk to the historic district, but the roads along the way were nice too.  This street seemed to be the main drag for shopping and such.  I’m sure I know people who will recognize this street.

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The first place that I went was the St. Stephens Cathedral, right at the center of town.  Again, I’ve seen a lot of churches but this one was absolutely fantastic – I’d say the finest Gothic church I’ve yet seen.  The ceilings swelled far above, supported by an array of intricately carved stone pillars.  I could have paid to see the apses, but I was already impressed and figured it wouldn’t get me anything more.

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Another stop was to the Belvedere’s lovely gardens.  This building housed a gallery that included some works by one of Austria’s most famous artists.  I had hadn’t heard of him or his work, so I just skipped it and enjoyed the outside of the building.

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After this I returned to the hostel to feast on my rather stale bread.  I bought a spicy spread to add some flavor and moisture, which helped a bit.  I was here to change and get ready for a night at the opera, actually.  On this finest of evenings, myself and two others were setting out to the State Opera House.

For a paltry three euros, we could get standing spots in the nose bleeds.  I could see and hear just fine, so for me this was perfect.  Tonight was The Barber of Seville, which was delivered completely in Italian.  I couldn’t understand anything, but each spot had a screen that provided the translated lyrics.  I didn’t notice this until the second act though.

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I had never been to an opera before, and I was really amazed at their ability to fill the room with their voices.  There was no amplification, just a cappella power.  The story itself was pretty lame, which is common of operas I think.  The kabuki productions I saw in Japan were equally one dimensional.   Incredible was just being in such a high society place, with people all dressed to the nines, enjoying the fine arts.

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That evening the three of us walked around looking for a place to buy a beer, but all the establishments were all completely dead.  We decided instead to just get one at the hostel.  There was a crowd of people supposedly going to a party that we tagged along. Once we got to the station, I decided that I wasn’t going to commit to the night and  instead went to an international pub at the behest of some people I bumped into. 

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I only stuck around for a half hour, but I saw some new things.  First was a game that involved hammering nails into a stump with the prying side of a hammer.  People would get one strike and then pass it, with the first person to pound it all the way in being the champion.  I wasn’t last at least.

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The other one just made me laugh.  After taking a shot, snuff would be catapulted into the nostrils, and then wiped by some mechanized brush.  It was just funny to watch.  I went back after this to get some sleep and make the most he next day.

When I work up, my friends from the night before smuggled me some coffee while I finished off the remaining 250 grams of now very stale bread.  The plan this day was to go back into the old town and do some of what I missed before.

The first stop of the day was at the Hapsburg Palace, where for six centuries Europe’s greatest empire ruled.  The massive structure was home to lots of museums and government bodies.

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The one that I went through first displayed the silver and porcelain services.  The collections went on and on, far surpassing both my expectation and interest.

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One interesting detail was for a certain type of napkin fold that was only used for the most important of guests.  Even today, it is only used for visiting monarchs and heads of state, but there are only a couple of people who know how to tie it.

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The next part of the exhibit was dedicated to the life of empress Maria Theresa.  It explained how she regretted marrying Franz Josef at first because of how her duties came at the expense of her own personal freedoms.  It then detailed how she began to embrace the roll, and the depression that preceded her assassination.  I never knew what end she had met, so this was interesting.

The last part of the exhibit were the Kaiser apartments, where Franz Josef and Maria Theresa lived.  I was expecting big things, but honestly the rooms at the palace in Innsbruck were far more beautiful.

After I the museum, I ran over to the the Hundertwasserhaus.  These apartments have incredible architecture known all over the world.  As people actually live in them it isn’t possible to go inside, but the exterior shots were good enough.

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I was cutting things a bit close with my next appointment, this time to enjoy some classical music at the Muzikvereinplatz.  Standing tickets again were incredibly cheap, so for five euros I could enjoy the world class Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterrich, in another beautiful concert hall.  As you can see, I was probably half the average age of those in attendance.

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The two hours were filled with there pieces and an intermission.  The first one was composed by some old guy who was there, and it was pretty good.  The sound of the instruments were beautiful, and though I was situated in the back of the hall, every nuanced bit of sound could be heard. When it finished the old guy came out to receive his applause, which lasted until he and the conductor disappeared and reappeared three times.

After this, there was a short changeover where they brought out a grand piano and made room for a few more instruments.  The pianist was named Rudolf Buchbinder and looked to be a septuagenarian.  Despite his more subdued composure, he came out and absolutely slayed the piano.  The twenty minutes flew by and then the end of it all was a lengthy quintuple applause before breaking for intermission.

I started talking to a lady near me about who was performing and such, then a moment later she relayed a ticket to me that someone taking off had given her.  This meant that a very underdressed me got to go sit down in the sea of gray for the second half of the show.  The view I had standing in the back was actually better, but resting my legs was worth it.  She was there supporting her violinist friend, with whom I had the chance to talk a bit.  I was curious about what makes a good conductor, but the language barrier meant I had to interpret her answer as someone who brings the best out of the players.  This answer was a bit more obvious than I would have preferred.

The third piece was about fifty minutes long and featured ornate violin solos and a breadth of intensities.  Able to just settle into my seat and worry only about about my peers’ perception of my hobo appearance.  One they finished up, a roar of applause lasted far too long before people started filing out.

That evening I just needed to go back to the hostel to gather my bag and go to the station.  I would be departing on another overnight train, back much the way I had gone to Venice.  First was the leg to Salzburg, where I would transfer onto a train bound for Zagreb.  Along the way we noticed the smell of smoke, confirmed by the fire alarm.  We had no idea what was happening, but we just spent an hour sitting at the station while the problem was resolved.  Incredibly, they made my connecting train wait 50 minutes so that we could still make it.  Fantastic.

This was a chair that I want.

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