Monday, October 20

Vienna I: We have Arrived


We left Berchtesgaden on a train headed for Vienna. Nestling into an enclosed compartment on the train, we settled in for a long journey. Berchtesgaden is a small peninsula of German land that protrudes into Austria, ¾ surrounded by Austrian land. We were now headed out to spend 5 days in Vienna.



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The train went through Salzburg and we regretted not having enough time for a stop. The Austrian countryside was pretty; the hills make farming difficult, so they have to be creative to compete. A lot of the farmers use environmentally friendly techniques and/or farm organically, both of which gives them a boost in competition with others who have mass production on their side.











In Vienna, we switched from train to subway and took it to the Karlsplatz Station. When we blasted up out of the subway underground into the city of Vienna, I was stunned. And not by it’s beauty, lest you get confused. To me, it was New York City all over. (I have since changed that opinion) My first impression was not a good one. We saw our first European homeless person. The streets near the subway smelled of urine & people were in a hurry. Also for the first time in my most excellent European Adventure, I was hot. How odd.
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Pulling our suitcases behind us, we made our way over to our motel – “Pension Suzzane.” Pensions over here are a cross between a small, privately owned motel and a large bed n breakfast. We met with Tom’s class group, met his professors, our hosts, and put our luggage in our room.



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Quick as a flash, we were off on a walking tour of Vienna, the inner stadt – inner city area. Now this was nice. This was what I expected of Vienna – Baroque architecture, cobblestone streets, older folks on bicycles with scarves flapping in the breeze. Yes…. This was the Vienna of my imagination.


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The cafĂ©’s were bustling, horse and carriage tours aplenty, what fun! The professors were giving us excellent details and I was pinpointing places on my map where I’d like to return.
We peeked into a church that has been here since 700. Some monks still live there and children still attend school there today.



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We also ducked into St. Peter’s Church. We entered to the aroma of candles burning and the sound of organ music. St. Peter’s is a great example of Baroque influences. The Catholic church in that day was trying to draw in more people, so they glammed up a bit. Bright colors, rich textures, lots of bling. And here I thought bling was a product of the 21st century – it’s been around for many, many centuries!



We sat in a pew for a bit and listened to the wife of our husband/wife professor team tell us about St. Peter’s history. Suddenly, the music ended and a bearded man near us began praying aloud in a foreign tongue. Latin? German? I didn’t know, but I loved it. We respectfully left quietly.





On down the cobblestone walkway we went. We entered Stephansplatz and stopped at St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the gem of Stephansplatz. Austria’s population is around 6 million, about 2 million live in Vienna and about 75% of them are Catholic.




The Catholic churches are plentiful, beautiful and extravagant. St. Stephan’s was built in 1433 after 75 years of labor. We climbed the 343 steps up the steeple (the south tower), rising 136.7 meters and got a great view of the city. It was hot. The stairs were completely spiral the entire way. An English tour of the cathedral is available every day at 3:45 and each Wednesday at 8:00 pm is an organ concert. We did not catch either of these. HOWEVER, the class (not I) did catch a once-in-a-century event there the next day. The steeple was under construction while we were there. The next day, the class was passing by the church and saw a helicopter approach the church. A gold cross was hanging from the helicopter and the class got to see this cross set atop the church steeple. Pretty awesome. That cross will remain there for hundreds of years and they witnessed it. Color me Impressed.



After climbing the steeple, we entered the church to see the sanctuary, almost an opposite of St. Peter’s. St. Stephan’s was subdued, darker certainly, and much, much larger. The interior is almost colorless compared to St. Peter’s. The Baroque period was so glitzy and glamorous, the church soon rejected it and turned back to piety and reason, rationality. I think St. Stephan’s was probably built sometime in that period.





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After our walking tour of Vienna, we went to The 12 Apostles (“Zwolf Apostelkeller” Sonnenfelsgasse 3) for dinner. This restaurant is in an old, magnificent building underground. The restaurant winds around corners and contains a lot of alcoves and small rooms. The stonework in the lower cellar where we ate dates from around 1100 and was typical of Romanesque architecture. The upper cellar is mainly Gothic and dates back to the late 15th century.

-Being in Europe, I never ceased being astonished to walk around in these old buildings. How strange to have normal big, city activities in all these historical buildings and just act all big-city and non-chalant. I just walked around most of Europe with my mouth hanging down in awe, I never could juxtapose the current day life with these historic buildings. I always felt like people needed to slow down and show some respect or like we should all dress in historic costumes and stuff. How do we just walk around and act normal amid all this majesty? I never got used to that.

2 comments:

Jen said...

Val you remind me of Jo in Little Women who wrote the ladies' traveling guide.....so knowledgable...and detailed...i want you to go with me whenever i go abroad, so that you can show me all the great stuff!!!! I miss you##

Poof said...

I was just thinking about you today, wishing you were walking the streets of Salzburg, something reminded me of you. See you very, very soon!