The train from Munich was 4 hours to Vienna, even though the train car was air conditioned everyone was waving their train tickets in their faces in an attempt to cool themselves off. My last hostel being somewhat of a horrible experience (the dorm rooms are 30 people huge, loud AND the girl I met from NYC on the last night had a naked Aussie sit on her bed and pee all over the floor at 3am). I am so excited to announce that I am staying at the best hostel in the world! They have been rated the highest the last 3 years. The hostel is called Wombats and is owned and run by two fun guys from Australia. I threw my cloths in the laundry and set out to see the city. I walked along the huge main street called Mariahilfer St and had not eaten all day so decided since it was 3pm to pick up some street food. I had a very traditional Viennese pizza “slice” (I say slice with trepidation as it was one quarter of a huge pizza) with ham, corn and gouda. As you finally get through the main street you hit a huge intersection which marks the entrance to the Museum Quarter and the most beautiful historic part of town. I sat in the middle of the Museum Quarter for about 30 minutes beside a water fountain of Triton and under a sculptured hedge of Venus. A few local guys came by to enjoy the shade with me and they were drinking Budweiser. I had to comment on their horrible selection and they got their backs up and explained that they were drinking the Original Budweiser from Czech Republic. They gave me a bottle to enjoy and I have to say the Bud that we are used to in North America is horrible in contrast to the real thing in Czech. The people in Austria and Czech are very adamant about telling you that the Americans stole the Budweiser name and logo from them illegally but since it was an Eastern European company it was almost impossible to sue them. The Americans TRIED to steal the recipe but I can assure you they failed miserably.
The Kunsthistorisches museum is amazing. I knew it was the best spot in Austria for art history fans but I was not aware of its brilliance. The interior is more beautiful than the Louvre and there are more famous paintings than can be found at the National Gallery in London. Now I say that as a hugely biased little man but take my word on it. The museum is housed right near the Palace of the Hasburgs (Hofburg Palace where huge statues and many younglings play soccer and Frisbee in the heat of the day) and the halls are made of marble, gold gold and more gold, and elaborate everything. The building was built in 1891 and houses all of the countries Imperial Collections. The 2nd floor houses over 10 000 paintings, the bottom floor houses the sculptures, artifacts and Greek and Roman Antiquities. The top floor has an elaborate coin collection display which I didn’t have time to see but I am sure it was impressive (what money isn’t). In the center of the building is a huge dome which is made up of beautiful sculptured plaster and gold rivets. Around the dome on the art gallery floor is a wonderful little cafe. Most art galleries have crappy little over priced cafes. Vienna is the only place I can say that wowed me with their dining selections. The museum cafe had a huge buffet dinner for 42 euro (expensive I know) however the selection and quality was stellar. A huge sweet table with elaborately carved fruits, the largest cheese table I have ever seen (larger than a bowling alley) and 15, COUNT 15 hot plate self serve main dishes. Enough about how the food impressed me and onto the art…
To make it quick. Titian’s Danae, Pieter Brueghel’s Wedding Scene, Winter and Tower of Babel (the gallery has the best collection of Bruegel in the world). I discovered my new favorite artist is Giuseppe Arcimboldo. His portraits are simply “people made of food.” They have his four most famous paintings called The Seasons. Each portrait is made of different foods you would eat as the seasons change, brilliant. A special exhibit on Giambologna called The Triumph of the Body; the Florence Nude. I actually got gitty when I moved into a room with three of my favorite paintings of all time (and I wasn’t even aware they were housed here so it really was a thrilling surprise). Parmigianos Self Portrait, Andrea Mantegnas St. Sebastian and my favorite of all Correggio’s Jupiter and Io (its so exciting to see Jupiter who is a looming cloud above kissing Io who sits on a huge rock). The gallery has FIVE Rembrandt self portraits, several Raphael Madonna and Child scenes and three Rubens rooms (Rubens was appointed as a commissioner through Brussels to the Hasburgs so Austria has many of his works for this very reason). I have decided that Ruebens by far is the most represented artist in Europe. I have been to over 50 galleries by now (and have several more to visit) and Ruebens above all is the most loved. I don’t actually like his stuff that much. They are huge, surely, but you can tell they are commissioned. They lack creativity in communication. All of the characters are set in the painting like a comic strip. The final room of the day was spent at the Spanish Masters Hall where I stared at several of Velasquez’s portraits of little girls in big poofy dresses.
To finish off my art gallery rant, I have come to realize that I have honed my art history talents. Taking art history courses is so essential but today is the first time I really noticed that I don’t need floor plan maps anymore. I can recognize through much practice all of the great artists and their style just by first glance. Today alone I told three little groups in the gallery which paintings they were looking at (some are not marked). They asked me if I worked their and I grinned and said, “No I have just been to every major art gallery in Europe pretty much.” It is so easy to recognize the dream like pink Poussins, Raphaels angelic figures, Brueghels busy scenery, Ruebens well placed tableau, El Grecos dark dreams and Rembrants searing eyes. I sit here, in the huge library in Vienna, happy to feel that I really have finally become an expert in the world of European Art (and I can’t wait to take my Italian Renaissance Art History class in the fall).
Skipping outside of the gallery on my way around the ring road to the massive City Hall. I soon realized upon entering the square that a very special event was going on. Luckily I am in Vienna during their huge Opera Film Festival month and this week also boasts the Cultural Food Festival. There is a huge Jumbotron sized screen set up in front of the City Hall and over 10 000 chairs lined in rows looking onto the screen. I asked around to find out what was going on and was told that at 10pm every night a classical concert, opera or ballet is played. The street connecting the City Hall and National Opera were full of wonderful smells. Over 25 countries were represented as cuisine sold in little huts. I had a plate of Indian food; samosa with chutney and Chicken Tikka with Basmati. I drank that down with the Austrian Pils Ottakringa. Many people were drinking huge glasses full of the local drink called Mozart Red. Imagine taking a glass and filling it with raspberries, then pouring a sweet red wine mixture to fill the glass. People are given little sticks to “drink this beverage”. The sticks basically let you poke each raspberry so you can munch on them. Culinary tourism at its best. I walked past the Opera before the evening show and sat in a huge Rose Garden overlooking many spraying fountains. My favorite aspect about the elaborate public parks throughout Europe are the locals who drink beer or wine from the bottle, and do so legally. To the right side of the rose garden is a replica of the Greek Parthenon where many people go to chill out and read. I found a Jackie Collins romance novel called Lethal Seduction and started to read that on one of the cold marble steps. Am I actually reading romance novels in Vienna? Pinch me please.
Tonight I watched a ballet called La Sylphide which was filmed in 2004 and stars the entire French National Ballet. It was the most romantic evening of my life (even though I was alone). The sound of classical music runs through the streets with the beautiful ballet shining off the screen. After the ballet I walked through the busy streets and made it back to my hostel in time to order my free welcome glass of wine. The WomBar at the Wombat hostel is incredible (and no wonder they win hostel of the year). The entire basement of this huge building is made into separate rooms for billiards, a cave like dance club, and a chilled out bar with trendy spots to sit and chat. A glass of wine, then bed, perfect.
My second full day (and last) was jam packed full of adventure, getting lost, meeting new people and feeling exhausted. I ran out of the hostel to start off my tourism marathon of the day. First stop was Kunst Haus Wien (who is pretty much Austria’s version of Gaudi). This Austrian artist/activist/architect is wacky. The museum was designed by him (and was actually his house before he died) and displays many of his art pieces on two floors. The museum is special because he hates the “line”. He refuses to recognize the line as a legitimate art form and you notice this as all of the tiled floors and staircases are up and down like waves. It is very odd to have to brace yourself while walking up uneven stairs. It is like you are drunk but know you aren’t at the same time. The entire place feels like a wonderland. He loves tiles so there are lots of colorful mosaic patterns on the floors and walls. In the center of the house is a huge rock water fountain which acts in every way it shouldn’t. Instead of the water shooting up and falling down the opposite occurs. The water jets outwards and then falls “up”. There are several interesting quotes from the artist throughout the gallery which I jotted down. “The line I trace with my feet walking to the museum is more important and more beautiful than the lines I find there hung up on the walls.” “Our real illiteracy is our inability to create…to paint is a religious activity and the straight line is godless.” He does psychedelic urban landscapes with watercolor and superimposes human faces into the scenery which you have to search for and find. There are several little architectural villages that he designed that I enjoyed gawking at. He was a neo modernist in every sense. He looks modern to the onlooker but the meaning of his buildings feed onto another polar opposite purpose. Rather than being a modern block of waste he strongly believes in the preservation of environment. A synergy of modern human elements and wilderness. His little villages look like something out of The Smurfs. All of the houses are built under the grass and natural elements such as hills act as natural bridges and highways. He is all about the ecologically sound buildings. He actually rants in a video about how boring architecture is these days and how it steals the dreams of small children (as schools look like prisons and so on).
I left the gallery and started another food and beverage pilgrimage. I spent an hour walking around in the hottest weather yet and arrived at the cities famous underground wine cellar to find out it doesn’t open until dinner. I threw my hands in the air and had a wee tantrum until I got myself together and moved on. I walked south and came across the cities famous St. Stephans dome which is black with dirt (and looks very gothic that way for some reason). The church is in the center of a huge touristy plaza surrounded by horse drawn carriages. It smelled like horse to say the least. I grabbed the tram south west to the ever so famous Schonbrunn Palace (Austria’s Versailles). I arrived and the thunder started to rumble so I had to do the gardens in a rushed jostle. The property is huge and reminded me instantly of the Sun Kings great abode. I only saw about one fifth of the entire property as there is a huge labyrinth I didn’t have time for and a plethora of different themed gardens. Palaces get dull in Europe so I took my tourist photos, closed my eyes and played a bit of Mozart in my head then left for my next stop of the day (PS Mozart played his first concert for the King at this “summer home” at the age of 3!).
I arrived at Belvedere Palace (yes they have a total of 3 palaces in Vienna) at around 4pm with just enough time to see the National Gallery (on floors 2 and 3) before it closed. I am thrilled to announce that I have a few new favorite artists (again). Egon Schiele is BRILLIANT. I want all of his artwork in my room. He is a master of oil paintings and has a great gift for the human body. In several of his “lovers portraits” he interestingly outlines each figure with thick primary colours. It adds an interesting perspective. My favorite pieces of his were The Hermits and Cardinal and Nun. His style varies, but my favorites look a lot like the cartoons from the film The Triplets of Belleville. Egon started the famed Austrian Neukunst Group (much like Canada’s Group of Seven). Gustav Klimt is another one of his brilliant artist friends (imagine a dinner party with those two. A hoot I say, just a hoot). Klimt’s infamous Kiss is really stunning and I saw many other Klimt’s which are done in a similar mosaic style with an innocent and photogenic face staring out at you beyond the glamour of his wide use of gold. The gallery has many of his famed works but also has an entire hall of his unfinished works that are half painted. It is always interesting to see an artist work through the process of a creation. A few other favorites were Max Oppenheimer who I can best describe as a magical film portrait extraordinaire. The gallery has a huge triptych of his called The Philharmonic Orchestra which makes you actually feel present in the scene. Sun shining through the window and a gaggle of musicians playing their instruments with funny facial expressions. On the main floor of the gallery was a special Modern Exhibition called Roland Gloeschl an artist from Vienna who loves the colours blue, red and yellow.
At this point of the day I was about to faint. I had yet to eat ALL day and it was 6pm. I walked back to the hostel to have a shower before I headed out for a well deserved dinner and decided to pick up a Wien treat on the way. At a bake shop I bought a pastry called Vanillebrezen which looks like a big pretzel but is made of a fluffy pastry filled with vanilla custard. I devoured it very quickly. I popped by the grocery market (as the quick bite made me very hungry) and bought a big jug of chocolate milk (Austrian milk is thick and creamy and the chocolate is of better quality than Beatrice). I also bought a traditional Austrian treat called Sauer Kirsch Schnitte which is a rectangular cake made up of 3 layers of chocolate cake, whipped cream and cherry jam. Dinner was enjoyed at a recommended local pub called Mozart Stube. I had a traditional Wiener Schnitzel with rice and a nice half liter of Stiegel Goldbrau (a sweet pilsner from Salzburg). On my walk back to my room I bumped into a guy from NYC and we chatted for a bit and I told him about my horror story from earlier in the day (the dreaded closed wine cellar). He convinced me that we had to go and enjoy it tonight since I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t make an appearance. I had a nice night with him getting very lost through the little side streets and eating Banana and Chocolate gelato while getting chased by rabid dogs. We arrived at Zwof Appoftelkeller which is a little gem. You would never know to go there unless you were smart and did your research (all fingers point to moi). It is two floors bellow the street and was first built in 1120! The wine cellar has been rebuilt since, in the year 1561 (so you can imagine how new it looks, not). We talked for about 2 hours while slowly drinking two “mugs” of wine. We had Welschrielsing and Muller Thurgau (a total of 1/2 a liter each!). The wine cellar was grand, fairy tale spot. All the locals pack the place at night making you feel right at home, about 500 years ago. I stumbled back to the hostel with my new friend from The Big Apple and hit the “hay” instantly.
My last day in Vienna was excellent, busy, full of surprises. I finished the Marathon and was pleased to be alive. “Tomorrow” would be a nice little unplanned treat (yes I haven proven that I DO have the ability to make spontaneous decisions!) as I took an excellent day trip “out of the country…”