Thursday, August 1, 2013

european tour: vienna

"But there may be a more profound pleasure as well: we may value foreign elements not only because they are new but because they seem to accord more faithfully with our identity and commitments than anything our homeland can provide."
-Alain de Botton "The Art of Travel"

Leaving Prague on an early morning train, R and I spent 4 1/2 hours riding through the Czech Republic and Austrian countryside.  Arriving at a Vienna train station, we were in for our first adventure...finding the way to the hotel.  Vienna has a very extensive and efficient public transportation system.  For someone who doesn't read/speak German it can be challenging to figure out which train and station was closest to our hotel.  Fortunately, a couple of local residents, were kind enough to help R and I navigate the 3 trains to the Lassalle Hotel next to the Danube.

Dropping off our stuff, we headed out to explore downtown Vienna for the late afternoon.  Our first stop was lunch at a cafe in the Museum Quarter.  In the square, surrounded by 4 museums and various other art and theater buildings, were people lounging in the sun, enjoying drinks at the cafes and in general milling around.  The whole area felt very hip, trendy and was full of young people.  In contrast to Prague, where many of the tourists were college-age students, Vienna seemed teeming with young professionals from a variety of countries.  Sitting in the Museum Quarter, felt a little like sitting in the middle of a cultural mash-up of our generation!  Needless to say, both R and I were in love.

After a quick lunch, we headed over to the Albertina Museum.  We only had about an hour and half before it closed, but it was the perfect amount of time to stroll through the amazing exhibits.  The entry of the museum opened up to an atrium with the perfect shade of pink walls and full skylights.  The permanent collection featured various artists from the period of Modernism, including Monet, Matisse, Degas, Chagall and Picasso (all personal favorites!).  Feasting our eyes further, we visited the exhibit from Gunter Damisch and also a special collection from the early 1500's by Rembrant, Reuben and Brugel.      

The rest of the evening we spent wandering through the main square of town, visiting St. Stephens Cathedral (sitting right in the middle of the mains shops and restaurants) before making our way over to Central Cafe.  We enjoyed coffee, dessert and a live pianist in the same cafe that was formerly the key meeting place of Viennese intellectuals at the turn of the 20th century.

Vienna is filled with interesting museums and sites, so our second day was packed in trying to fit as many places in as we could.  We started off the morning visiting the Vienna State Opera.  80% of the building was destroyed in World War 2, but it is still a magnificent building, with the original part that survived being absolutely stunning.  Vienna being the home of Mozart and Beethoven, the opera house was the perfect place to visit.

After the opera, R and I, taking some advice we read here, split up to each explore on our own.  It was the perfect opportunity to each do what we individually wanted.  I went to the Freud Museum and then to the Sisi Museum, Imperial Apartments and Silver Collection; while R headed off to the Museum of Architecture, Roman Museum and then lounging around in the park.  R and I have an amazing time traveling together, but there are just some things (including a collection of teacups, visits to psychoanalyst's house or a museum dedicated to a former empress) that should be experienced by only those who truly love it!

The Freud Museum, located in his former Vienna apartment, was interesting, but less based on his life, and more on the apartment itself.  Since Freud escaped to London towards the end of his life, many of his original belongings are no longer in Vienna.  The only original furniture that was remaining was his waiting room.  Interesting tidbit, Freud studied about the effects of cocaine on depression, anxiety and hysteria.  He even used it himself from time to time.  Fascinating.  Another, Freud was passionate about 3 things. 1.) Smoking 2.) Traveling and 3.) Collecting.

The Sisi MuseumImperial Apartments and Silver Collection were much more in line with my direct interests.  With a visit to the museum, you get an audio guide that lasts nearly 3 hours.  I skipped the audio portion of the silver collection, and mostly just wandered through, enjoying the royal teacups, teapots and silver.  The next portion was dedicated to the Empress Elizabeth of the Hapsburg Empire, or Sisi.  This was a woman who struggled with severe depression and melancholy throughout her life and it was fascinating to learn about how she lived her life through that.  Her gowns and jewels were mostly replicas, which was a little disappointing, but I am sure the originals were gorgeous.

In the evening, R and I met back up to share notes over dinner and to ride the giant ferris wheel.  This landmark of Vienna, I have to admit was one that I had been looking forward to greatly!  It is one of the oldest ferris wheels in the world and have large red cars to travel in the 20 minutes it takes to go around.  We went at night, hoping to get a view of the city lights.  We enjoyed our ride with an American family (4 girls), which made the fact that the city was completely dark, much more entertaining.  Nevertheless, it turns out that this too, I should have enjoyed on my own...

A day full of sightseeing and ending at a local carnival, it was the perfect excuse to go back to the hotel and straight to bed in preparation for our 6 day bike tour the next day.

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