Wednesday, August 17, 2005

History Personified

Upon the end of our stay in Budapest, we headed up to Vienna, the former home of the Hapbsurg Empire and currently home to one of the strongest economies in Europe (shown by the large number of corporate suit/investment banker types we saw floating around town). We were originally worried that the increased cost of everything would have us stressing more about our budget than having a chance to experience the city (much like what happened to us in Amsterdam). Thankfully, Vienna played a more than friendly host and despite going a little over budget, we had a good time and did a good job of balancing seeing many of the sites (Vienna is very heavy with museums and showing hundreds of years of history) and still experiencing the overall vibe of the city.

Vienna is certainly a city that is built on it's past but one whose class and elegance shines through. Becca and I were impressed both with the history as well as the general cosmopolitian feel of the city. Both of us agreed that Vienna and Stockholm have been the two major cities we've seen so far that we could see ourselves living in. Just an amazing combination of history, modern amentities, culture and parks. A city with a strong personality and identity and one that we mixed with quite nicely.

That being said, here are the highlights...

Vienna Film Festival: After a 30 minute hike and a few stops on the metro, we finally checked in to our hostel. The university student promised us cheap ethnic food if we headed towards Rathausplatz for the film festival. While we did find tasty ethnic dishes (though not really cheap; more like normal festival prices), we also found this film festival. Evidently every summer in the town hall square they do a film festival where each night a famous rendition of some opera or classical piece is shown on the big screen. We stuck around for the beginning of the performance and realized that the seats were packed; the Vienna folks certainly like their high class entertainment, that's for sure. Meanwhile, Becca was like a kid in a candy store with all the food options. In the end, we decided to try some traditional Austrian food: rindfleischgrost'l (yummy and very filling) and Radner, a mix of beer and lemonade that was way too easy to drink. I think we'll be having more of that....

The Royal Treasury: One of the many locations housing the various riches from the Habsburg empire, this was the highlight of the Vienna sightseeing for me. Just an absolutely stunning collection of jewels, crowns, tapestries, clothing and religious artifacts, etc. that were all explained at just the right depth by the awesome audio guide we decided to invest in. The audio guide also had bonus sections; sometimes we were finish a section and it would say "If you'd like to learn more about x, please press 22". Needless to say we took advantage of this quite a bit and got a college history class in about two hours of audio coverage.

The Hapsburg's ruled from 1273-1918 so there is a ton of history throughout. It was interesting to learn some of the backstory of the Holy Roman Empire (warning: link is educational!), Napleon's forcing himself into the Austrian Royal Family and how Francis II became Francis I. Definitely my favorite place; very educational with just the right amount to see. Even Becca enjoyed it in between poo-pooing all the "straight from the cross" religious items scattered throughout.

Schonbrunn Palace: A bit of a disappointment for me, but this could be because I'm quickly realizing here in Europe that I'm not big on just seeing palaces just for seeing's sake. Very heavy tourist location and we certainly felt that during the actual tour of the inside, that we were on a tourist treadmill that we had to work hard to get off. This treadmill feeling may be because/in spite of one of the more precise entry systems I've ever seen. Upon receiving your tour ticket, you are given a specific time (in our case 12:09). And you're only allowed to enter once the clock hits 12:09. Does a good job of keeping people spread out at the start (especially the gatekeeper who had more of a conceirge feel, keeping everyone happy) and it seemed like most people stayed spread out during the tour. Just one of those cool pieces of european efficiency.

For us though the really cool part of the palace was the huge gardens in the back; about a kilometer of beautifully sculpted gardens with nice tree covered paths branching out in all directions. And the Austrians take their gardens seriously: as we were sitting having lunch we saw a security guard get off his bike and start yelling in the general direction of a group of tourists sort of close to the grass (the grass is verboten at the palace). Thinking he was a bit harsh on the folks we looked around and realized that there were two people right in the MIDDLE of one of the gardens. He was pissed to say the least; I think if he was carryina handgun he might have knocked them off right there. After a momentary "who us?" look, the peopel finally got out of there post haste, though only after almost stomping on a group of flowers. If that had happened I think we would have seen our first homicide of the trip...

KunstHausWien: This museum celebrates the art and innovative urban design work of Hundertwasser (you can read his philosophies here). His art has heavy influences from his time in New Zealand and reminded me heavily of Maori/Aboriginal art. His urban design ideas really defy description; if one tried it could be the meeting of sustainable living and abstract design. Just a real potpurri of design styles all anchored by his own philosophies. Definitely a worthwhile visit, again the art was ok but the urban design and practical projects (such as designing a new license plate for Austria) were the real highlights. Just a very interesting individual and an interesting stop off the beaten path.

Kunsthistorisches Museum: Another part of the Hapsburg empire; this was the home of all the various artistic masterpieces obtained over the years. Due to time constraints (and the fact that after 4+ days we were pretty museumed out), we stuck to the Picture Gallery (think of it as the greatest hits of the museum). Overall the collection is an impressive one with world famous artists from all over Europe (Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc.). As Becca pointed out, there are only so many still lifes or pictures of various major religious events that you can stand before hitting the "dazed and glazed" mark. Particular artists that stuck out for us though were Arcimboldo, Rembrandt, Rubens (especially this) and Vermeer. Overall good to visit but a little too much for us to sink in all at once. Cool entryway though.

All in all we give Vienna high marks. The post is long because we did a lot; there was a lot to see and much history to learn in amongst just strolling the streets (where we actually saw the shell game being executed to perfection) and enjoying the sophistication of the big city.

Ok, enough long posts. Less talk, more drinking tasty Czech beer.



Becca addition:

It's funny. There are so many reasons why we could have disliked Vienna. It's so expensive, it's a big city, so many of its hotels, shops and cafes were so clearly for wealthy people, its sights were all prices really high...and yet we were enchanted. Maybe it was the cleanliness versus Budapest, maybe it was all the parks and gardens and green spaces throughout the city, maybe it was the magical first night at the film festival, maybe it was the way all the sights blended into the city, maybe it was all of it...but we felt at home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is the deal with people walking on gardens and touching art?

Are there not museums in these people's home countries?

On our trip I saw more people wandering on grass they shouldn't, and touching paintings... maybe there are some good things about growing up in a country founded by Puritans. :-)