Eurotrip 2014: Stephansdom, Ringstrasse, Naturhistorisches, Gasthaus
I’ll confess: This was the first trip I felt old. Not because I couldn’t walk the walk but because I couldn’t read the map. The guidebook maps in particular. I’d look at them, blink, pull the book away, try to adjust to the proper range. “Hey, they made this print too small. They need to ...” Then the other shoe. “Oh. Shit.” I went through the three stages of farsightedness: annoyance, realization, acceptance. Will scope out readers soon. Because carrying around two pairs of glasses just isn’t enough.
The Pension Neuer Markt, where we stayed in Vienna, and which always made me think of John Irving’s Pension Grillparzer—but without the bear and with a much better bathtub—offered, as had the Hotel Meteor in Prague, a breakfast buffet, in a cramped but elegant (but slightly frayed) dining area. We ate there every morning, and every morning when we returned to our room it had been cleaned. I assume, when we ordered coffee and they asked for our room number, that they relayed this information to the cleaning service, who went to work. However they did it, it felt efficient.
We were efficient on our first full day in Vienna. We shot the works at Stephansdom: bought the pass for the audioguide, catacombs, south tower, north tower and treasure. I did it all but the north tower, while P traded catacombs for art later in the day. How old is Stephansdom? Work began on it in 1304—or 188 years before Columbus sailed to America. Think about that. When Mozart was married at Stephansdom, when he lived a block away, it was already, at that time, nearly 500 years old.
After the audioguide tour and the south tower climb, fighting for space in the narrow stone stairs with hordes of kids on field trips, we ran into different versions of Wolfgang Amadeus selling opera tickets along the Stephansplatz. After our great experience at the Municipal House in Prague, we were interested in hearing music again, so I bought a pair of cheap tickets from a short, fat Mozart for about as much as it cost to shoot the works at Stephansdom. It was just money, right? Euros. Like play money. You just spend it. It’s there to be spent. The bill arrived recently. Oops.
Since we missed the #22 tram in Prague, P was interested in taking the Red City bus tour along the Ringstrasse to get a better overview of the city, which we did, meeting, along the way, a ticket seller from Spain, who admitted he wasn’t a big fan of German food. But the place across the street, he said, was good. We remembered the location more than the name: Plachutta: Gasthuas zur Oper.
We had no Wenceslases on this tour, just an audio guide, as we sat in the sun on the top deck of the bus. We didn’t stay long. Patricia, with a penchant for taxidermy, had us get off at the Naturhistorisches Museum, with its small elephant statue in front and a Noah’s Ark full of stuffed and mounted animals inside. The hallway was cavernous, the exhibits never-ending, Patricia in heaven. It was also fairly empty of tourists. Most people don’t go to Vienna for the taxidermy. But you could tell, 100 years ago, that this was the thing to do: to collect and preserve different and exotic species for display for the masses. Back then, the exotic was natural and from some far-flung place on the globe. Now it’s some two-dimensional phantasm, occasionally with 3-D glasses.. We also saw a good, frightening exhibit on “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.”
After lunch at the museum, and the remainder of the Ringstrasse tour (there’s a Franz Grillparzer Street!), we wanted coffee, so stopped at the outdoor Mozart Café of the Sacher Hotel. P had talked all day about getting a Sachertorte, which, to my non-foodie ears, sounded like “soccer torte.” It was fine but not something to travel to Vienna for. Meanwhile, I wanted a simple iced coffee but wound up with some distinctly Viennese concoction. It rose up in the glass, impossibly white and fluffy, with various cookies stuck into it. If I must.
Traveling together as a couple is a bit of a test. You wake up together, eat together, plan together, walk together, visit the same things together, eat together again. For dinner one night, we sat down, looked over the menu, ordered, looked at each other. Silence. Finally I broke it. “So how was your day?” I asked. That’s why it’s always a good idea to split up every now and again, which we did that afternoon. P wanted to see the Durer exhibit at the Albertina, and I walked her there. Of course, us being us, we got lost. We walked as far as the Hofburg before she realized her mistake and backtracked. I stuck around there, though, basically kicking stones and taking pictures and going my own way.
Ten minutes later my phone rang—my first call in Europe! Patricia, of course. She said I just had to see the steps at the Albertina. Plus, right next to the Albertina, was a museum to film, which I needed to check out, too. So I walked over, saw Durer’s rabbit painted on the steps, entered the sedate Film Museum. But the name was a misnomer. It was basically a movie theater that showed art films in the evenings. The good news? On the way back to Stephansdom I saw a relief of Franz Grillparzer. See slideshow below.
It was a hot afternoon and so a tour of the catacombs at Stephansdom sounded like a good idea. An hour later, after spending time walking down cool stone steps in cool hallways and viewing the bones of the victims of centuries-old pestilence, I emerged into Stephansplatz, where P, waiting, was full of stories. Together we toured the Treasures section of St. Stephens, which included many reliquaries, of which P, a good, wayward Catholic girl, was a fan. For dinner, we followed the advice of our Spanish tour guide (the gasthaus near the Opera) and didn’t regret it. I regretted the opera a bit. It wasn’t the national opera, near the gasthaus, but a few blocks further south: “Mostly Mozart.” Crowded and kitschy. They let the tourists on stage, sitting there in their shorts, which P thought a bit gauche. Or at least linke. But the music was good. As in Prague, a lot of “Magic Flute.”
SLIDESHOW: Stephansdom in all its splendor. OK, some of its splendor. OK, just a bit of its splendor. It's impossible to catch all of it. It was built in 1304—or 188 years before Columbus sailed to America. By the time Mozart got married here, it was nearly 500 years old.
P: the good, wayward Catholic girl, forever lighting candles.
Climbing the south tower. We battled a lot of field trips along the way.
This was one of them. Stephansplatz, Stephansschmlatz. They made their own fun.
Our Mostly Mozart guy.
Biking in Vienna. A bit more civilized than in Seattle. It was actually warm this day, despite the look.
Ringstrasse from atop the Red City tour bus. We didn't stay long because ...
P had to see the Naturhistorisches Musuem. With friend outside.
Naturhistorisches Musuem. They could really tone down the splenor one time. To make the other museums feel better.
P and the birds. A better encounter than this one.
P meets the beetles.
Has anyone seen this Hans Hass film? More on the man here.
In the afternoon, P went here and was thrilled.
I saw this and was thrilled.
Stephansdom again from the Treasures room.
Checking out the triptychs.
Mostly Mozart: crowded and kitschy, but with a beat we could dance to. Glad we didn't go for the stage seats. *FIN*