Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Long Weekend in Vienna

Bobby has been in Vienna since the middle of February. As usual, he's there for a research trip, but he was sweet enough to take a long weekend away from his work to spend time exploring the city with me. The trip, which was my first time to Austria, was amazing. Vienna combines my favorite things about life in Western Europe: strong music culture, beautiful old buildings, great museums, and relaxing café culture. In this photo you can see me in the famous Café Central, which opened in 1876 and was a key meeting place for the Viennese intellectual scene. Aside from its famous clientele (which included Sigmund Freud), the café also hosted some rather infamous guests, including Hitler and Lenin. Luckily, the café was free of dictators while we ate our breakfast and enjoyed a few café melange.
There are many, many museums in Vienna. In fact, there's an entire quarter called Museumsquartier, which at 60,000 m2/645,000 ft2 is the 8th largest cultural area in the world. Here you can see the main entrance to the former Hofburg Imperial Palace, complete with horse-drawn carriages. The Hofburg Imperial Palace, which is currently the official residence for the Austrian president, was once the palace for the Holy Roman Empire's ruler. The famous Hapsburg dynasty used the palace as their winter residence. This particular section of the palace, known as Saint Michael's wing, is now home to the famous Spanish Riding School and the Royal Apartments museum.
Inside a different section of the palace, the Neue Burg or New Castle, is the Ephesus Museum, the Collection of Arms and Armor, the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments, and the Museum of Ethnology. Can you believe how huge the inside of this building is?!? And that is just one part of the museum! We got to see some interesting suits of armor, Renaissance and Baroque instruments, and a few pianos played on by Haydn, Beethoven, and Mahler (as least we think they were played by them... all of the signs were in German). We also got to see a lot of artifacts from Ephesus, which was a lot of fun since we've been to Ephesus and have seen the ruins there.
After visiting the Neue Burg, we headed over to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is in yet another part of the palace. Again, I was amazed by the sheer size of the building. We saw some interesting art works, including a fair number of pieces of Rembrandt, Dürer, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder. In the Egyptian wing we saw some mummies (including a few mummified crocodiles!), tombs, and other interesting artifacts.
We also visited the Royal Treasury, which is in yet another part of the palace. We saw all sorts of items in the treasury: 16th century royal baptismal clothes with gold thread, coronation robes with ermine and gold, lots and lots of jewelry, crowns, orbs, and religious 'artifacts' (seriously, how many times have I seen a relic claiming to be part of the cross?). My favorite item was this odd vessel, which is made out of the largest emerald in the world (2,860 carats!).
Not all of the big old buildings in Vienna are part of the Hofburg Palace. There are also a lot of cathedrals. Here you can see the inside of St. Stephen's Cathedral. Consecrated in 1147, this cathedral is the final resting place of 72 members of the Hapsburg dynasty. The church is well known for its tiled roof, but we didn't get a chance to see it since it was covered with snow.
One of my favorite things to do in a new city is to check out the food markets, and Vienna didn't disappoint me with its Naschmarkt. Initially a place to buy milk in the 16th century, Naschmarkt has been the city's place to buy fresh produce since 1793. It was fun wondering around the 120 different stalls, selling everything from cabbages to jack fruit to tea. However, it was a bit difficult to get around due to the amount of snow on the ground. Between Thursday and Friday night, it snowed at least 6 inches! My poor feet were drenched after walking around the market (turns out my boots aren't waterproof).
Wet shoes be damned, nothing was going to keep us from exploring more of the city. The composer Mahler lived in Vienna for 10 years, and there are many reminders of his presence in the city, especially around the opera area (Mahler was the conductor for the Vienna Court Opera for several years). Mahler is one of Bobby's favorite composers, so Bobby was very excited to walk down Mahlerstraße. He was hoping Mahler might answer the door to this building.
Bobby even got to pose with the death mask of Mahler, which is housed in the fantastic Haus der Musik. This interactive museum has individual rooms dedicated to the important composers who worked in Vienna: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, and Strauss, plus a room for the Second Viennese School composers - Berg, Schönberg, and Webern.
The Haus der Musik also has an installation called the Virtual Conductor, where you can conduct the Vienna Philharmonic! After a sort introduction by Zubin Mehta, Bobby took the symphony through a slightly crazed rendition of one of Brahms' Hungarian Dances.
All of that sightseeing builds an appetite. Since Bobby had been in Vienna a week before my arrival, he already had a good handle on traditional Viennese food. We visited a few underground restaurants/bars, including the one you see here. The Zwölf Apostekeller is located on 3 subterranean levels of a celar dating back to the 14th century. We ate some very traditional food: blood sausage, grouse dumplings, pork roast, and (of course) sauerkraut. Accompanied by some almost-decent Austrian white wine, it was a fun meal.
Bobby also introduced me to another Viennese culinary mainstay, the käser krainer (or cheese sausage). The sausage is somehow filled with cheese along with the usual (or unusual?) various animals parts, stuffed into a roll, and accompanied by ketchup and mustard. It took a little getting used to (the cheese tends to squirt into your mouth whenever you bite down), but overall I enjoyed it.
Thanks for planning a great weekend trip, Bobby!

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