Surprisingly, I was not hungover on this morning; a bit tired from the adventure thus far, but no hangover to speak of. It may not have mattered if I had been because the first half of the day was spent driving from Budapest to Wien, or Vienna, as we ‘Muricans call it. We drove through a lot of open countryside on the short drive, which took us about three or so hours if memory serves. It was too early for check-in, so we got a short city tour by bus, with skillful Pawel at the helm. Austria was nearing their election when we were in town, so there were faces of politicians plastered everywhere, many of them covered in genitalia added by their admiring citizens. So socioeconomic and political frustration aren’t just a common theme here in the good ole U S of A. They’re calling bullshit on their “representatives” just like we are, and it’s nice to see. I mean I read about it all the time, and I see the footage from the less biased media outlets and how they compare to V**com’s and C**cast’s propaganda, and I have to say it’s just nice to see political outrage and how fed up people are elsewhere. It’s prevalent just about everywhere now as we enter this new age of consciousness and people wake up to how they’re being screwed and lied to. There’s a new term for this. It’s called being “woke.” So if someone asks you, “Are you woke, bro?” and if you are one of this increasingly common crowd, then your answer is, “Yeah, bro.”
Sorry, this is not a political blog. Please accept my apology, and continue reading about some history and other fun things.
We were dropped off at Albertina, which is an art museum now, but originally was one of the several Habsburg palaces in Vienna. Just a few short blocks away was St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and we were headed there, but first we had to stop for coffee. I don’t think enough coffee could have done the trick for me in Vienna. It’s an extremely windy city. I believe we were told that it’s windy about two-thirds of the year. Plus it was about 50 degrees and overcast both days we were there, so it really zapped us. I was the youngest on the trip by a few decades, and somehow it got me the most. I generally don’t do well with cold anyway, and yes, 50 degrees is cold. Exacerbated by very strong wind gusts, it was just not going to be a pretty two days for me. The forecast hadn’t called for it to be that chilly either, so I didn’t pack adequate clothing.
After the short stop for coffee, we walked down to St. Stephen’s and spent 10 minutes or so checking it out. There was a mass being held, but the gallery was filled with tourists snapping pictures of the cavernous interior. The construction of this massive church began in the 14th century, and the structure is famous for its huge gothic spire and colorful tile roof, which is similar to but not quite as striking as that of Matthias Church in Budapest. We didn’t spend long sight seeing because we were starving, and I was certainly ready for a beer or two to warm me up from the biting wind. If only I’d packed a lightweight base layer…
I was rollin’ with the OG’s, and we managed not to find the first two places I had written down on account of Vienna’s odd street layout. I’ve successfully navigated some of Europe’s more challenging city “plans,” but I was not ready for Vienna; especially after having visited three major cities and a hand full more small towns over the prior seven days. I could feel myself succumbing to the sensory overload. Even looking at a map now, I have no idea where all I walked in Vienna. I know it was primarily within the Ringstrasse, but beyond that it’s a toss up. The Ringstrasse, or Ring Road, is a cool piece of history in itself. It was built under Emperor Franz Joseph I, of Habsburg lineage, in place of the old city walls and moats. The new road would be an attraction, as well as serving to connect important buildings, both palatial and commercial. The roads were built wider as a strategic advantage to make it more difficult for revolutionary barricades to be successfully constructed. A secondary ring outside the Ringstrasse was also constructed and used for cargo purposes, so as not to distract from the spectacle of the Ringstrasse itself.
We managed to find a warm spot for lunch, where I sucked down a few Zwickel beers and scarfed some schnitzel. I was slightly recharged and ready for the afternoon city tour with our guide, Marie, who was born in Poland but had emigrated to Austria several decades ago. One of the first stops after being chauffered through the labyrinth of streets was the Hundertwasser House, which is certainly one of the most unique buildings in existence. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an Austrian artist and architect, as well as a huge advocate for environmental protection. His art is extremely unique in its natural flow and design. I guess you could say he very literally applied the “no straight lines in nature” concept. The exterior of the Hundertwasser House has few straight lines, and though we didn’t get to enter, we were told the interior didn’t either. The plaza out front is all uneven terrain as well. I asked Marie what the cost was for an apartment in the House, and she said it was actually very cheap because of subsidized housing.
There was also a small indoor shopping center across the plaza that we visited, where I picked up some very good coffee before heading back to the bus. I don’t usually do black coffee, but it would’ve been sacrilege to not drink it black. That stuff was delicious. I think it was called Leopold Hawelka or something like that. Outstanding!
The next stop was Hofburg Palace, the winter residence of the Habsburgs. Like most things it was originally constructed in the 13th century. Over the centuries it was home to numerous Habsburgs, and today it serves as the primary residence and office of the Austrian President, as well as home to the museums of natural and art history, the Spanish Riding School, Imperial Chapel, and Imperial Treasury. We weren’t to tour the halls of the palace that afternoon, though. In der Burg, the huge central courtyard, it has a very unique feel. Sculptures you’d think would be on display at a museum like la Louvre line the walls, and there’s something about the architecture and design that just screams Habsburg. Marie only took us around the exterior and interior courtyard, then we walked back toward St. Stephen’s where we were picked up by Pawel and again taken on a very turny drive through the city until we arrived at another palace, which again we’d only view from the exterior.
“SLAY YOUR ENEMIES!!!”
– One of those Habsburg guys
Belvedere Palace is just slightly south-southeast of Hofburg and actually consists of an Upper and a Lower Palace, an orangery, and stables. This is a young palace when compared to Hofburg. It was not constructed until the early 1700s under the demands of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a successful military commander. Oddly enough, the palace was not referred to as the Belvedere until after Prince Eugene died and Maria Theresa purchased the estate in 1852. It was then that the sales contract mentioned “Belvedere.” Maria Theresa never moved in, but rather made the palace into an art museum, one of the world’s first public museums. In the late 1800s, Franz Joseph I decided it should be remodeled into a home for his heir apparent, Franz Ferdinand. Following WWI, which ironically began with the Archduke’s assassination, the palace was again turned into a museum. It was badly damaged in WWII and later reopened as a museum in the early ‘50s.
It’s a bit odd that the courtyards are lined with various feminine sphinx, something we’d typically associate with ancient Egypt or Sumer. I find it interesting how echoes of our distant past somehow still percolate into modernity. I also found it interesting, yet not surprising, that the breasts of these sphinx were far more worn than the rest of their bodies.
On second thought, maybe she should be a griffonlady.
Anxious to get out of the biting wind that swept across the open courtyards on the hill where the palace rested, we got back on the bus and were taken to our hotel to freshen up and rest a bit before dinner. I had time for a nice long hot shower and even did some laundry the old fashioned way before we had to head down to meet the group. We had the back section of the restaurant to ourselves, which was immediately adjacent to the food and bar. I ordered a Gösser Zwickl and loaded up a few plates and a large bowl of soup, then had a seat across from Manny, one of the original group of 12. I believe Manny told us that he was an immigrant at the age of 7, if memory serves, and he and his wife, Carmen, had come over from Mexico around the same time. We’d been having mealtime discussions for the past several days, which would happily continue until we parted ways once back in New York. They were dog lovers, so several times we got caught up in conversations about our fur children. The dinner conversation that evening, though, was music. Manny apparently has quite the collection and spoke highly of his man cave, where he spends hours listening to music. I often times speak very passionately about things, but probably more often it is not reciprocated. Listening to Manny talk about his love for music was a welcome change of pace. Even though I didn’t share all of the same tastes, his passion for music was nice to see and hear. We talked about blues and classic rock until we had eaten as much as we possibly could. I was feeling the fatigue set in, so I had a Reiningshaus pilsner, then headed back to the room to get some much needed sleep, out of that Vienna chill and beneath warm covers.