Monday, December 7, 2015

Very Vienna

The last installment of our (fall break) story follows the two young women, Kayla and Lindsay, and their (very easy) search for beautiful sights and delightful desserts in Vienna. A two hour train brought us back through foliage-ridden fields and hills, back to a city gleaming with romantic, Parisian-esque flair. And three and a half days brought us through palaces, museums, and endless cake. Seriously, it never seemed to stop finding its way into my mouth.
We arrived back in Vienna, maneuvering our way on the metro per our AirBnB host’s instructions. Our host’s wife welcomed us in, and we dropped our things in our room—complete with queen sized air mattress, two coffee mugs, and an overflowing bowl of Starbust-flavored candies. Within half an hour, the keys in my bag, we were out the door and on our way to the city center.
Evening was settling, so we explored the Stephensplatz area and ducked into a quiet Italian restaurant for dinner. A heaping bowl of spaghetti carbonara (for only eight euros!) accompanied me, followed by a complimentary shot of limoncello from one of the servers. To boot, one of the young men next to us is also studying abroad this semester, having spent the first half in Berlin, and now in Vienna. He was dining with who I believe was one of his professors, and we all chatted for a bit about study programs. The professor was taken aback to hear that we decided to visit Austria without knowing a lick of German. We were just grand without it, anyways.
Dessert ended the night—and what better way to end an evening? (Side note: I did not try the Sachertorte cake that Vienna is so well-known for. The adjective ‘dry’ used to describe it immediately turned me off.)

 For the next three days, we were on the move. A string of activities has become a bit blurred, but I will recount everything as accurately as possible.
On Wednesday, Kayla and I began making the most of our Vienna Passes (free admission to multiple attractions, as well as rides on the Hop On and Hop Off bus!) with a visit to the Royal Apartments of Emperor Joseph I and his bride, Elisabeth—or, as she was affectionately known, Sisi. Those and their Schonbrunn Palace rooms of residency are entirely decked out in reds and golds, making for exquisiteness and a tangibility of the “Old World” I’ve never born witness to. We then checked out the Theater Museum to my complete excitement which melted into confusion at the experimental exhibition. It was rather graphic, and I can feel my face muscles tugging in all directions as I reflect on the photos and videos.
The location of the Royal Apartments

After a quick lunch, we spent the afternoon at the Schonbrunn Palace, where we attended a strudel-making show (complete with a free sample!), explored the palace, the gardens (one of which was out of season and the botanical garden not very full), a maze, and the Gloriette which provides excellent views of the palace and beyond. It was cloudy for the duration of our time there, but that didn’t warp the beauty in one bit.

The Privy Gardens at Schonbrunn Palace

The Gloriette at Schunbrunn Palace
We visited the Technology Museum, reminiscent of the Museum of Science in Boston and the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. From there, the plan was to return to the city center. The Hop On, Hop Off Bus left just as Kayla and I began jogging towards it. Another one didn’t arrive for almost forty minutes, so we braced ourselves from the chill and laughed at a man dressed in gold and whose face was masked as a gnome.
Respite from the surprising cold was found in a small, traditional Viennese restaurant with mint tea, a bread dumpling and ham. We brought Mozartorte cakes home—chocolate cake, with one hazelnut and one pistachio layer each and topped with chocolate ganache. That was one of my favorites. We had also picked up a ninety cent bottle of delicious grapefruit beer, topping it all off brilliantly.

Day two and a half kicked off with a ride on Vienna’s giant Ferris wheel in Prater Park. And from there, we visited the Danube Tower, then took a quick look at the exterior of the United Nations Headquarters. The morning, in summary, was spent up above the world trying to make out shapes from below a blanket of fog. I don’t mean for that to sound disappointed or sarcastic: Kayla and I laughed over it, and it was still undeniably stunning.

Vienna from its giant Ferris wheel!

Vienna from the Danube Tower!

The main thing with Vienna is that it is not compact. The city center offers much to see and do, but there are quite a few out-of-the-way locations. Not that it mattered, with having free transportation; it just made time feel crunched. This was the portion of our trip that it was dire to GOGOGO or else miss things. It was well worth it, in any case. I was just under the impression that things were much closer together… Oh, the things that we don’t know!
That afternoon, we journeyed out again to take a wine cellar tour, complete with a free sample of sparkling Chardonnay. Kayla and I perused the upstairs museum after, sipping our wine and speaking quietly in the silence that embraced the place. Our bus was expected to arrive at 3:37, and we finished up and went outside in plenty of time. It arrived sure enough, and our next plan of attack was a museum in the city center.
Trying to be a wee classy.

But seven days of nonstop activity does a funny thing: it makes you sleepy. A good and satisfied sleepy. One that tells you just how much you’ve done and seen and how far you’ve gone—it’s really an incredible thing. Then you’re driven around, getting to take in the sights without needing to move, and you sit contentedly as the city rushes past. You think you’ve got another stop or two, and then the voice in the headphones connected to the tour bus make reference to leaving the city center.
“Do you know what our stop is?” Kayla asked as I snapped out of the hypnotic relaxation I had been sucked into and began pulling open my map.
“No,” I replied. She laughed.
“Me neither.”
None of the surroundings looked familiar, and we couldn’t decide if we should get off at the next stop and take the tram. One way or another, it would get us back to where we needed to be.
But we didn’t see another stop for a while. The bus wound its way through Vienna’s wine village, and up and around a darkening woodland hill. By the time we finally hopped off, we had been sitting there for more than one hour. The bus had pulled into a parking lot for a panoramic view; but we saw a bus that would take us to the metro. So we sat on that for another twenty five minutes, and took the metro for another five. The museum closed during our hop on-never-hop-off journey, but we ended up at the Museum of Music and that was a ball. Interactive, music-filled, and the ability to run around like a child with more laughter was a far better alternative. And we had four cheese gnocchi with more mint tea… and cake. ‘Nuff said.

ALL the dessert. Ever. Amazing.
Our last day was spent jaunting about the city center. We explored St. Stephen’s Cathedral first, and then strolling through the park on the outskirts. Really, it was a day of touring the exterior world, poking into different shops, and eating potato pancakes, egg dumplings, and cake. The sun came out that day, and brought a new life to the city. Vienna was huge, and with it its art, its architecture, its dessert, and its beauty. It’s an exciting, fast-paced city dripping with regality.
Inside St. Stephen's Cathedral

Snapping some selfies in reflective windows

The National Opera

Until next time, Austria. ‘Tis been nothing but a joy.

Vienna wasn't just a city, it was a tone that either one carries forever in one's soul or one does not. -Sándor Márai

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