10:47, Sun 23 August 2009, Vienna
Well I successfully navigated to the Sudbahnof station in Vienna without any problems this morning and thought I had come way too early but it turned out to be a good thing because this train requires reservations and I had to go figure that out. Unfortunately I’m not digging this reservation thing as I don’t get to choose my seat and have the misfortune to be seated in directly in front of a screaming, squealing, kicking 4-year-old for the next five hours… Perhaps I’ll be able to change seats at some point because I don’t know if I can make it.
Vienna was different from what I was expecting. Well actually I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but it was such a change from Munich that I was really surprised. First off, when I arrived at the train station (one of several around the city instead of one main one) I found myself in a very crowded urban environment. That was kind of shocking as I battled so many people for access to the street and public transportation. I found the tram I was supposed to take to get across town to the other train station near my hotel but I was perplexed as to how I was supposed to buy a ticket. Seriously, there were no ticket machines anywhere to be found. I thought maybe I was supposed to buy it on the tram and boarded, watching the other passengers for some kind of a clue. Nobody seemed to be doing anything so I just assumed it was free and took my seat. An Australian couple came up to me and asked if I knew where to buy the tickets and I laughed and said I had no idea and had just been getting on. They weren’t convinced though and continued waiting around confused. All the times I took the tram, I never actually saw a ticket machine, although I found out later that you’re supposed to pay. Whoops!
One thing was evident, though. Vienna was very different from Munich, but equally or perhaps more beautiful. Even taking the tram I enjoyed just looking at the buildings as we passed. I took the U-bahn from near the hotel (buying a 48-hour all transit pass this time!) up to the northernmost part of the old city center and attempted to make my way down to St. Steven’s Cathedral in the center. I failed miserably. My sense of direction took a day off I think as I had no problems the next day, but even wandering through wasn’t bad because even on random side streets, the architecture was very pleasing.
Finally I gave up and got back on the U-bahn to go back a stop to Stevensplatz. When I turned the corner from the station, my heart literally stopped. Out of nowhere, here was this gigantic, imposing Gothic cathedral. I literally had to turn back around to catch my breath.
I suppose now is a good time to mention something I’ve been thinking about for the past few days. One of the most tourist-attracting aspects of European cities is the lavish and often ridiculous palaces and cathedrals. The idea that all of these magnificent buildings were constructed for so much money and at the expense of the everyday people is somewhat morally conflicting. On one hand, they are beautiful and offered an opportunity to progress art and architecture, but at the same time, there were probably much better things that could have been done with the money than building a palace with 300 rooms adorned in gold.
I got some supper from a little grocery store near the plaza and took it with me trying to find somewhere to sit and eat. I still have yet to actually eat in a café or a restaurant. The idea of doing so by myself isn’t very appealing and I enjoy sitting and eating in a park just as much anyway. Luckily it didn’t take me too long to come upon a park and find a nice bench by a pond in the shade. After I ate, I came across a statue of Johann Strauss on violin. It’s really cool how much good music came from Vienna and I did get a special feeling just walking around where Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden, and so many others had.
I found my way to the tourist information center and found that there was a bus tour leaving pretty soon, so I decided to take that. It wasn’t particularly enlightening, but it was a welcome break from walking and gave me a chance to cross the Danube and get a better feel for the significance of different places around the city. Plus, it was at dusk and quite pretty.
When the tour ended, it was getting dark so I started to make my way back to the U-bahn station. I found myself walking down the main shopping stretch through the center of the city and it was totally invigorating. The street was pretty packed with people in a jovial mood. Normally I don’t really like crowds, but the feeling I got was incredible. I was in a beautiful city and couldn’t go anywhere without hearing some kind of excellent live music. I walked slowly, soaking it all in and grinning from ear to ear. There was a crowd gathered around some street dancers in front of St. Steven’s Cathedral, so I decided to join that and continued to thoroughly enjoy myself. It was a great end to the day.
Yesterday was rainy, which I have to say I was thankful for. It has been far too hot and sunny for all the time I’ve been spending outside traveling over the past week! I took this as an opportunity to hit museums and started out with a tour of the Opera house, which was pretty special. Even though it was mostly destroyed from bombing in World War II, it was still really cool to be there. I really wish that the opera had been in season so I could’ve gone to a show, although I’m not sure how well I would’ve been able to stand through an entire opera at this point! They never repeat the same opera two nights in a row, which seems to be a logistical nightmare, but very impressive nonetheless.
Afterwards, I walked to the Holburg grounds, which are huge. I went to the history museum where they had quite a bit of cool ancient Roman and Egyptian artifacts, as well as 15th century art. I walked around for an hour or two but I was feeling pretty tired, so I decided to head back to the hotel for a nap. I got some Chinese food take away and brought it back to the hotel. It was interesting; they actually gave me the food in reusable plastic containers rather than disposable boxes. I thought that was pretty cool, but I didn’t have space in my bags to live up to my pack-rat ways.
I was feeling musically inspired from my morning at the Opera house and decided to find somewhere like that to go to that evening since there was no opera. I found a museum called “Die Haus der Musik,” which happened to be open until 10 so I headed over there around 4 or 5 and spent a good three or four hours in an interactive museum dedicated to sound and music. Some of what they had was a bit bizarre (a room that mimics the sounds and vibrations of being a child in the womb), some of it was interesting in a scientific way (an interactive program that informs you about ghost notes and how your brain adds extra inaudible tones when you’re listening to someone on the phone), but my favorite part was probably the historical areas. They had one wing dedicated to the Vienna orchestra where I learned about the history of their sound and instrumentation (they have their own versions of oboe and horn, for example) and got to listen to their recordings of Viennese composers (which I probably could’ve done all evening). Later on there was a floor with histories and artifacts of the famous composers, from Hayden to Schubert to Mahler. It was overall a very nice way to spend a rainy evening.
There were still some people out last night but not nearly as many as the night before, probably due to the weather. I saw my first female street performer, a woman playing a violin beautifully.
I went back to the hotel to make my plans for today, for Prague. I was feeling a bit hesitant as I started because the Czech is even less intelligible to me than German. Also, I don’t yet have a map of Prague so hopefully I won’t get lost! Then I started clicking on photographs of attractions and felt a new wave of invigoration. I’m having an amazing time and feel so lucky to get to visit all of these incredible places!