Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
The train trip from Salzburg to Vienna took just over two and a half hours. Vienna is about ten times as big as Salzburg, so we found the U2 subway line to Schottenring, emerged at street level, and then made our way to Freyung, where we found Benediktushaus, our lodgings in a former monastery, which was, as promised, next to the pharmacy. All the modern conveniences, but very quiet: no TV.
Somehow, I can never quite keep track of everything when traveling. I figured out how to plug into the train system for power to work on my photos–while also looking out the windows–but then neglected to retrieve my little adapter plug.
Our first excursion to Stefansplaz was a successful shopping trip in search of a new adapter. To over-simplify, Stefansplaz is a gorgeous up-scale shopping center, anchored by a remarkable Gothic cathedral, Stefansdom. As our tour guide so aptly described it a few days later, Stefansplaz is the ‘crowdiest’ place in Vienna.
Then we headed toward the Danube. there are several Danubes in Vienna, it turns out. And, as everyone knows, none of them are blue. We found ourselves at the Danube Canal, a flood control measure completed in 1598.
We noted a feature that was later explained by our tour guide: the walls of the canal are covered with graffiti. Kristin explained that the city permits graffiti along the canal, but forbids it elsewhere and the policy seems to be successful.
Dinner at a nearby restaurant suggested by a fellow Benediktushaus resident was delicious, as was a good night’s sleep.
After breakfast on Thursday, our receptionist directed us to a laundry for washing and folding of a few shirts. Then we followed Herrengasse to Michaelerplaz to buy tickets for the next day’s Lipizzaner morning workout. From our central district 1, we made our way to Karlskirche–completed in 1737– in district 9, to buy tickets to hear the Mozart Requiem with choir and period instruments in authentic surroundings. We were awed by the incredible architecture we passed all along the way. To play off Kristin’s turn of phrase: Vienna is the ‘baroqu-iest’ city we’ve ever seen. As we later learned, much of it is neo-baroque: built in the 19th century, when they dismantled the city walls and erected imposing civic edifices along the Ringstrasse.
The Vienna History Museum was virtually next door to the church. We gained a wonderful over-view through art–plus a special photographic exhibition on Vienna during World War I. I’ve known for years that the proximate cause of that war was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Elizabeth in Sarajevo. I have now learned that, in response, Austria decided to punish Serbia for this dastardly act. Apparently they little realized what alliances would line up against them.
I confess I was even more intrigued by Hans Makart, whom we’d encountered indirectly in Salzburg. I’d never heard of him before, but he was considered “the Prince of Painters” in the late 19th century Vienna. Our Hotel Bristol and the Mozart Residence are on Makartplaz in Salzburg. The museum displayed one of the oil sketches that was part of his commission for a grand artistic vision for the Procession of 1879 to celebrate the Silver Wedding Anniversary of the Imperial Couple. Given my affinity for the steam engine, I especially appreciated the example on display: The Railways.
It rained on Friday–but no matter: the Lipizzaner workout was inside the Great Hall. We did not see the famous acrobatic leaps of stunning white stallions. Instead, we watched as, in four groups of five, young horses practiced half-hour routines that will someday enable them to perform the complete balletic routine. All Lipizzaners are black at birth. The mature performers are pure white. The horses we watched ranged from light dapple-grey to very dark, as you can see on the left. The horses do not practice in synch, each rider seemed to be working on a different detail. The one I enjoyed most was a young woman rider whose cantering horse changed leads every four beats. The horse literally skipped diagonally from one side of the arena to the other. Later a rider on foot led a horse around as a groom switched at the horse’s heels. That horse then stopped and kicked his heels high in the air–preparation, it was clear, for eventual acrobatics.
We found the plaque of appreciation for Patton’s intervention in the reservation area. Internet research that rainy afternoon revealed that Patton authorized some pretty hair-raising Special Forces efforts to retrieve breeding stock from Czechoslovakia before the Russian Army gained control.
The weather cleared around four, so we set out again and almost immediately encountered a perfectly labeled art display: Yellow Fog– singularly a` propos that day. We wandered further into the old shopping district as darkness fell and saw the square and a statue commemorating Gutenberg, an old synagogue, an Eastern Orthodox church in the Greek community and the relatively new Anker clock–it’s only 100 years old. We did not see all twelve figures parade across the front of the clock at noon. But it was lovely in the dark.
We moved from Benediktushaus to the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, to join the AMA Waterways group that would take us down the Danube toward the Black Sea. That evening we enjoyed the Requiem at Karlskirche, about two blocks from our new location. As we anticipated, the tonal effect was like nothing we’d ever heard before.
Like the performance at Schloss Mirabell in Salzburg, it was aimed at a tourist audience, but sometimes that’s really quite OK. The Orchestra of 1776 has a fixed set of five programs that they repeat for many weeks. How fortunate for those of us who can go there to hear lovely voices and period instruments perform in exactly the environment for which the music was intended.
Schonbrun Palace was our afternoon destination, the summer palace built by Empress Maria Theresa in the late 18th century. I can’t begin to describe the lavish palace and no photography was permitted inside, so you’re spared the pictures. Wandering afterward in the extensive gardens, we saw a remarkable variation on tree-pruning. The French approach to tree pruning has always seemed overly severe–to me. But here we saw a new extreme: trees that had, in effect, been reduced to two-dimensions. I was intrigued by the awkward scaffolding that they apparently use to maintain these giant, skinny hedges.
We sought more music Sunday evening. We’d bought tickets to hear the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra–the oldest orchestra in Europe–under the direction of Riccardo Chailly at Musikverrein, a wonderful auditorium directly across the Ringstrasse from Karlskirche. Our tickets were for the right loge, a narrow upper balcony directly over the percussion section, from which we looked down at the orchestra. If we leaned forward, we could watch Maestro Chailly conducting–which is what I did during both pieces, Bach’s Suite for Orchestra and Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. The second was truly an exhilarating treat for three senses: we heard melodious sound; saw musicians, instruments, conductor and the beautiful hall; and felt the timpani vibrate through the floor.
We’d seen signs in the lobby and got confirmation from the desk clerk: the entire orchestra was staying at our hotel. At the buffet breakfast the next morning, I thought I spotted a couple of tables of youngish people who resembled those I’d watched the night before. As we left the area, passing through a second dining room, we saw Riccardo himself–no mistake. I confess I did not seize the opportunity to say “Good morning, maestro, thank you so much for a wonderful performance yesterday evening.”
It was time to board the bus for Budapest.