The trip to Vienna, like all my trips since I’ve been in Hungary, really started on Thursday night. See, my bus to Austria left from Budapest at 7am which means I needed to be there by 6:45 which means I needed to spend the night in Budapest since there are no trains or anything else which will get me there that early. This also held true for any trips which had me leaving the country. So I went into BP on Thursday and met up with Chris Seelie, a fellow UNLVer who is doing HIS time abroad teaching in Hungary. We had a nice lunch and chat about writing and then I went to Edd’s place for dinner and a brief photography lesson and a bed for the night.
Friday, I was up, showered, and out the door in plenty of time to find the bus station (and my particular bus). It was an easy ride, just under three hours and there was free wifi almost the whole way, so the time passed quickly. At one point, the bus slowed and I looked out the window and we were passing into Austria. It was kind of weird to see the former border check point deserted and run-down. It would make a great location for some sort of spy film.
Anyway, I got to the Viennese airport just before 10 and then had four hours to wait for Claudia’s plane to get in – she being my reason for a weekend getaway in the city of Mozart. We were celebrating her birthday. By the time she finally arrived (her plane was late)and we found our hotel, it was close to five in the afternoon. We dropped our bags and headed out to explore.
Our first stop was Karlskirche (St. Charles’ Church). It was getting dark and we had no idea what the building was so in we went! Turns out one of the things this church is known for is its amazingly painted dome, which is currently undergoing restoration. Of course, since it’s undergoing restoration there’s a scaffolding and an elevator so you can actually get up close and personal with these fantastic murals! They closed at 5:30 so at quarter to six we got kicked out and decided to try and find someplace for dinner.
The great thing about touring is you have the opportunity to really discover things. Yes, there are specific tourist sites which you should see, but after dark, most of those are closed and especially in mid march, the weather is cold and windy and rainy so there aren’t many people on the streets and you can just wander around until you find the place which just feels right. This is what we did. We hit the main drag first, just as a point of reference but every food establishment we saw was a chain or a pub or someplace which didn’t appeal for one reason or another. So we started veering off on side streets, finding out of the way squares, fountains in the middle of the street, quaint little shops and cafes and eventually, we came across Cantinetta di Norma, which was a tiny little place, with great pastas and a wonderful tiramisu for dessert. After a leisurely dinner we wandered around some more, and eventually found ourselves at an English language movie theatre where we caught a late showing of “The King’s Speech” before heading back to the hotel.
Saturday morning, we were up and, after a nice hotel breakfast, were on our way to find the Spanische Hofreitschule (The Spanish Riding School) in the Hofburg. This is the home of the World Famous Lipizzan Stallions. These horses are amazing. the precision with which they move around the arena is phenomenal. Then, when you add in the jumps and walking sideways… it’s really something which needs to be seen.
Leaving there took us, after searching for the (currently closed) Jewish Museum, to the Albertina. Ironically, we didn’t see any of the permanent exhibits (well, except for the monkeys) but instead spent our time looking at two of the three temporary exhibits. The first was on Der Blaue Reiter, an art movement founded in Germany in the early part of the 20th century. One of the founders of the movement was Wassily Kandinsky, whom I had heard of, but the rest…not so much. Claudia knew them though (she having a degree in Art History) and was quite enlightening. For me, though, the best thing was being introduced to Alfred Kubin, who was independently drawing what Lovecraft was writing about. Just wonderfully dark, depressing and powerful surreal visions. These are the kind of pieces of art which inspire me to write stories for them.
We also saw an showing of Pop Artist Mel Ramos’ work and I have to admit, I wasn’t very impressed. The show was called “Girls, Candies and Comics” and I was excited to see what it was all about – and while there were some nice, skillfully rendered pieces, there was nothing to really make it ART. There was nothing deeper than the paint. At least Warhol had a sense of irony and a message he wanted to impart.
We skipped Lichtenstein (we were hungry) and headed across the street to the Hotel Sacher, home of the fabled Sacher Torte…we never made it. See, on the ground floor of the Hotel is the Cafe Mozart, where several key scenes in Carol Reed’s 1949 masterpiece, The Third Man, were filmed. I had to go in. The place was packed! We wrangled a table away from an older couple and had coffee and pastries. The reputation of the Sachertorte is well deserved!
After what counted for lunch on Saturday we headed off in search of Freud’s office, although, by the time we found it it was almost closing time so we just grabbed some literature and decided on our next move. For me, that consisted of going to see the Riesenrad (Giant Wheel). Again, this was used for a key scene in The Third Man and the last time I was here in Vienna, I didn’t ride it – and I wanted to. So off we trudged to the Prater.
The Prater is an amusement park with an interesting business plan. Each of the attractions is owned and operated by different factions so while there’s no entrance into the park itself, each thing to do costs. Thankfully, we only wanted to ride the wheel. We rushed through the midway, which was loud and noisy and full of strobe lights and made our way to the Wheel’s entrance. Before you get to the area where you can enter the cars there’s a kind of museum with dioramas showing the history of the park, which was interesting, but it was getting late and we wanted to see the sights from almost 65 meters up. The cars are interesting. Unlike the more modern Ferris Wheels, which allow two or three people to sit along a bench, or in a small car with benches on either side, the cars on the Riesenrad are fairly large and are often rented out for corporate events or romantic dinners. It seemed like every other car contained white clothed tables and buckets of pretzel sticks and bubbly beverages. Our car, on the other hand, was spartan, with a lone bench in the middle and room to walk around the perimeter to look out the windows.
At this point we had decided on a quick trip back to the hotel, a nap and then another late night film, this time True Grit. Before the movie, though, we did a bit of walking around Stephansplatz, the big square in the center of town, which is named for Stephansdom, the main cathedral in Vienna (as well as one of the tallest in the world. It was night time, so the main part of the church was closed off, but we could still have a quick look inside. Then it was off to another cafe for a quick bite before the film. See, Vienna is known for its cafe culture. On Saturday night we found Cafe Korb. Unlike Cafe Mozart, which was a definite tourist attraction, with an old world elegance and a low-pressure turnover, Cafe Korb was a locals joint where the vibe was relaxed and artsy. Were I to live in Vienna, I would be a regular here. Especially once I saw the performance space in the basement, which had bookshelf wallpaper. The tables were cracked formica, the menus printed on day-glo poster board and yet the waiters were dressed in tuxedos. And the patrons were all characters right of some 70s surreal arthouse drama. I loved it! We reluctantly tore ourselves away to make sure we didn’t miss the film, then headed back to the hotel on the infrequent Ubahn.
Sunday morning was sunny (still cold though) and we headed up to Schönbrunn Palace, which housed on its grounds the oldest zoo in the world. This was a palace for the Habsburgs and is huge and amazing. We walked around and decided not to take the interior tour but instead, visit the Palmenhaus, an incredible Victorian glass enclosed green house featuring 4500 different species of plants. We thought about hitting the zoo, but we were fast running out of time, so instead, we walked around the perimeter, then grabbed our bags from the hotel and headed back towards the airport.
My bus was a few minutes late but I made it back to Budapest, with just barely enough time to get to the station, buy a ticket and make my train for home.