At the Prater
When I last left you, I was very tired, but very happy to be in Vienna
. The same is true on both counts now, but today, I have stories to tell. On our first day in Vienna, the group had class and then 2 visits in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the hotel we were to have our class in thought we were an Italian group of around 20 people and seemed a little shocked when 48 of us walked into the tiny lobby. Things were quickly worked out and class began, I was the powerpoint operator for the class, and I got to learn a lot about Baroque and Rococo art – engaged eyes, melodrama, over-decoration, the play of light, etc. That’s one reason I love these trips, is that I actually learn so much about what I am seeing and doing, but I don’t have to take notes or the final.
The little train
After class, we all hopped on the subway and headed into town to go to Mozart’s House. It was an interesting tour, but the audio guide had absolutely nothing to do with the rooms we were in, it was sort of a theme, but the stories went on forever and had no information about the objects we were looking at. This year would be Mozart’s 250th birthday, so the town is big on Mozart right now. It was at the Mozarthaus that I bought my first souvenir (a paper Mozart wig) and took my first picture.
Next it was off to lunch and then to the Kunsthistoriche (Historic Art Museum). I had an hour and a half to kill before I met Leslie (my co-leader) at the statue of Maria Therese to get tickets for the museum, so I decided to find something different for lunch.
Wiener Wuerstel and Weissbier
I found a Tunisian restaurant and had a really good couscous and vegetable soup and something called a brik, a crepe filled with eggs, tuna, mint, and onions that was deep fried. I was accosted by a heroin addict for my spare change and the owner took pity on me and in broken English explained to me how he hated that his neighborhood had drug addicts in it and then gave me a free dessert – I will take a little panhandling, if I get free food out of it. I finished my lunch and then met up with Leslie and the students. We are traveling with headphones that the instructors can broadcast to while we are touring, so we tested that out and then headed in. My role on this trip is the keeper of the key for the coat closet that is filled with the student’s backpacks.
Waiting in the rain
None of the museums allow you to carry backpacks and our students have GIANT ones, they look like they weigh 50 pounds. I learned a valuable lesson as the key holder at the Kunsthistoriche. The students were supposed to look around for at least an hour, so I gave them a window of 45 minutes to come down and get there bags. I figured 45 minutes is as long as anyone can stand in the bowels of a museum in a coat closet. It was all fine and good until one person didn’t get their bag by the end of my shift. In this day and age, you can’t just leave a bag sitting around, but I really wanted to get my driver’s license back and head out. I ran upstairs into this giant museum hoping I would find the student, no luck, none of the others had seen him. I found one of the professors and she asked me to have a drink with her in the café, so I did. I tried Wiener Wuerstel with mustard and horseradish for the first time, I have to say it is my favorite Viennese meal. 2 giant sausages with fresh horseradish and a big pile of mustard with some bread, plus its really cheap. By the end of my second sausage, Qadeer had found me, and I got to leave. I was so tired that first night, that I went home and laid in bed, I think that was the day of the Enron verdicts, so I watched that on CNN about 30 times and then fell asleep under my wonderful Austrian comforter.
Yesterday, was another class day with a visit to the Albertina Museum and then the Upper Belvedere Museum. The weather here as been cool and rainy with some periods of gorgeous sunshine, or sunshine with rain. You never know when its going to rain, it just starts, even when you don’t see any clouds, it makes for an adventure. We challenged the group to meet us at the Albertina if they wanted to go on their own. A good number of them took us up on that offer, and then some of them rode the train with us. Eventually, everyone got there, only 4 were late and one had an asthma attack from running down the street to make it on time. That’s why I am happy we are in Vienna, its good practice for the students before we get to the hard to get around cities in Italy. The Albertina is part of the Hapsburg Palace in the heart of the city. In honor of Mozart, there is an exhibit about him along with an exhibit called Reinventing Rococo, that I loved. In the staterooms of the palace, famous designers like Dior and Galliano have recreated dresses from the 18th century, plus modern artist have put their spin on subjects and themes from that period of time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire – it was really cool, and I think the students were happy to see something so modern when they were expecting something they might have seen the day before. From the Mozart portion of the exhibit, we learned he liked to fart and cuss and gamble, maybe if I started gambling I could be a child prodigy too.
A group of us went to lunch at a place called Mama’s Kitchen, it was an Austrian version of a home cooking restaurant, giant knoedell (balls of cooked dough), spaetzle (a doughy noodle), and lots of pig parts. It was good and cheap and got us back to the Maria Therese statue in time to meet the students to take them on the S-bahn to the Upper Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere houses impressionist art and a large collection of Gustav Klimt’s work, including The Kiss, which I have to say, is amazing in person. The thickness of the gold and the lightness of the flesh when you see it in person is truly unbelievable. We broke for the day there and went off into the cities, Leslie and I went with the professors back into town to go to the Hotel Sacher for coffee and torte, but when we got there the line was so long, we went across the street to the café at the Westin and had dinner. After that, it was back to H&M and then home. I finally broke down and bought the internet in the hotel – 23 dollars for 24 hours, but it allowed me to download the season finale of Lost and hopefully, still send out this update. I had to sit in the lobby to use the internet, so I got to see a lot of the students. This is a really great group, most of them are going to the opera and extra museums and having interesting conversations, however, there are the usual suspects on this trip as well and, in the lobby, I got to smell the alcohol exuding from their skin. We have a smallish group of guys, known to the others as the “frat pack” who I think I convinced not to travel into Bratislava to get drunk, that’s one small victory for me, but I think they are going to go bungee jumping in Switzerland – I feel the stress headache coming on about that.
This morning after our amazing breakfast we headed off to Schoenbrunn Palace for the tour. When we got there, we were told that the tour had been booked for the day before, and there it was on our confirmation, the 26th and not the 27th, the first big problem of the trip. We bought regular tickets and took the audio tour, The first big solution of the trip and I don’t think the students even knew what was going on. Schoenbrunn is a big imperial palace with lots of silk walls and chandeliers. The audio tour was interesting though. Lots of details about weird things you didn’t want to know about, the length of the Empress’s hair and what kind of flowers decorated the table in the family dining room, but not details about what you wanted to know about, like why the Emporer’s only son killed himself at 30. After the tour, we broke for the day, and Leslie and Joyce (one of the professors) and I walked through the gardens in the rain to the hill behind the castle to have pastry and coffee. It was expensive, but nice. I then broke off and made a return to H&M and then headed to see the Hundertwasserhaus. Hundertwasser was an architect who believed that nature should be a part of the city, so he designed this fantastic apartment bloc with trees growing out of it, and interesting colors and shapes in the middle of an old Vienna neighborhood. I had lunch there as well, beer and my sausuage and horseradish standard. I also visited the museum down the street where some of his work was. Then the day got interesting. I thought I was doing the right thing by hopping on the S-bahn in the opposite direction for which I had arrived. I did something wrong and ended up at the end of the line in the middle of the woods. There were people around, but I was deep in a big park. I figured it was the Prater, which is a large green space that I had been to before to ride the big ferris wheel. I checked my map and I was right, so I found the street that would take me to the ferris wheel and the nearby U-bahn station and started walking. The forest got thicker and the people got fewer and then I was standing by a big empty parking lot and a giant stadium – I had walked a long time and so I checked my map again and realized I had walked in entirely the wrong direction. Fortunately, about that time, I saw a little tiny train coming to a little tiny station very near to where I was. I ran over to it, asked if the train was going to the Prater, and it was. So me and a lot of children rode the Liliput Train for about 2 miles back to the amusement park. I felt kind of stupid, but it was also kind of like a fairy tale, I guess.
I made it back home, downloaded my pictures, and am about to go to bed. Its 9 o clock and I am exhausted. I still have to pack for tomorrow, the first travel day. We head to Klagenfurt
, Austria as a rest stop for the night on the way to Florence on Monday. It will be our first day of traveling so I am a little nervous about it and about our driver Joel. I am sure more stories will follow soon. I got word tonight that our visaless student should be with us by Wednesday. Also, our luggageless student finally had it delivered today.
More from Italy in a few days.