…where “co” stands mainly for Schnitzel. Anyway; Vienna, the destination of our fencing group’s yearly holiday. The expected nerdy note: I was only familiar with Vienna through the 1949 british noir “The Third Man”, meaning not much at all. Obviously, I did not expect to see the same half-destroyed city, or to find the same atmosphere, but I was thrilled to see some of the iconic shooting locations with my own eyes, and learned with disappointment that the sewers from the final scene would reopen only the day after we were leaving. So if any of you guys is a movie freak and thinks that wandering through sewers and climbing the ladder on which Orson Welles died in the film is a brilliant thing to do with your free time, make sure you find yourselves in Vienna between May and October.
The obligatory patriotic note: Before this long weekend, I have always largely neglected the city, because it has always been so close and so similar to Prague that I have never felt the need to actually go and see it. I was mostly right, too. It’s a lovely city, it has a similar feel to Prague, only Prague has more character. And I am not saying this because I’m Czech, but because it’s a fact. Vienna is beautiful, of course, but Prague is magical. The food is quite similar, too, and I was proud to see that most respectable places in Vienna were serving Czech beer (which actually should be a given in any respectable place around the globe, really). Enough comparison, though. Vienna used to be the seat of the imperial court, and you can see it. Palaces everywhere. Big, sumptuous palaces. Every member of the royal family had one or two. And then they commissioned more palaces to accommodate their extensive art collection (which is a noble thing to do). Actually, if museums are your thing, Vienna is a wonderful place to visit.
We arrived from strangely sunny London right in the middle of winter. OK, I had promised earlier that I would not bitch about London anymore, but the place we were renting – huge, airy and full of light with high ceilings, 3 bedrooms and a living room that alone was probably twice the size of my entire flat in the UK – just makes you realize what a shithole London is and in what conditions people accept to live there (and for what kind of money). Now, the italian expats among you will understand the joy I felt to realize that one of the flat’s two bathrooms had a bidet. Only whoever had been in charge of furbishing the flat thought it was a good idea to put the bidet in a separate room from the toilet. I mean, what’s the bloody point in having one then? If you are civilized enough to understand the purpose of a bidet, why on earth would you put it somewhere where you need to walk across half of the flat to use it? I guess the evolution happens in stages…
First though, during a raid of the local supermarket – we needed supplies for the evenings and one can hardly play drinking games without anything to drink – I discovered the gem pictured on the photo below. The brand new sommelier (I had successfully became a certified pisshead on the previous evening) in me was overwhelmed by joy (the joy one feels when one’s about to indulge in some very silly guilty pleasure). Is the real Krug aware of this? (Apparently yes, a quick internet search revealed, but they are not suing as long as the austrian winery does not produce anything sparkling). Will it be as horrible as the classy label suggests? (Yes, it was awful). Will it hurt me? (Likely to, in large quantities, but a couple of glasses kept the damage minimal). Will it have a funny bouquet? (This is a private joke, but it was bound to).
The appalling weather was a great incentive to hide in the first of many temples of art, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (which also happened to be open until late on thursday nights and pleasantly empty, especially compared to other european museums of similar importance). The house hosts an extensive collection of italian, german, dutch and french paintings and a large number of ancient greek, egyptian and middle-eastern artefacts. Other thing worth noticing are the beautiful seccoes by Gustav Klimt that decorate the ceiling of the museum’s atrium.
Now, a friendly disclaimer: last year I took the group to Prague, and being a tour guide in my own city was fair enough, but if you put me in charge of the sightseeing programme everywhere else too (because none of you bothered to google “Vienna top 10” – let alone open a guide), in the absence of any constructive proposal (“I don’t mind” isn’t one), I’m gonna drag you to every museum I want to see. Which in this case could have been a widely welcome thing as the weather continued being disgusting. We attempted some kind of walk around the city centre in the morning, but when we realized we kept entering the churches for the sole purpose to warm up, we figured lunch was probably the best thing to do. Someone suggested we had lunch at the Justizcafe, which sounds posh, but is in reality nothing more than a canteen for employees of the Ministry of Justice. Well, there is the view, of course, as the cafe happens to have a massive rooftop terrace (probably to help keeping the civil servants concentrated in summer). On a sunny day the view must be quite something (quite frankly it was amazing on a miserable day, too), so if in Vienna, don’t get discouraged by the security check at the entrance (it is a government building after all), Justizcafe makes for a cheap lunch with unparalleled view, and they are quite used to tourists wandering in after the existence of the place was apparently disclosed to wide masses by a Guardian article.
I insisted on visiting the Palais Belvedere (which hosts the biggest Klimt collection in Europe) in the afternoon. If you don’t have enough time in Vienna and have to choose one museum, pick this one. We arrived 2 hours before the closure and I thought we would have to hurry, but the museum is quite small (especially compared to Kunsthistorisches Museum), and all you really need to see can ne found in three rooms. So with one spare hour you can admire The Kiss and Judith and Holofernes as much as you like (or as much as hordes of Chinese tourists allow you).
We woke up into a completely different season. 20+ degrees and sun, so I suggested a visit to Prater. The oldest amusement park in the world, free of charge and open every hour of every day. OK, I do admit that I only wanted to go there to see the big Farris wheel I knew from The Third Man. I am no lover of amusement parks, and this one was no less tacky than any other around the globe, but it was fun. I experienced pleasures of black mamba (I realize it sounds a bit dodgy, but that was what the instrument of torture was called, honest), accepted the challenge of being shot on elastic strings against the sky and managed not to vomit the lunch. And I guess that was enough assisted-suicide-attempt-(of sorts)-induced adrenalin for the lifetime. Of course, the real challenge would have been doing all this at 3am shitfaced, that would have been truly awesome, but well, maybe next time.
A few artistic shots of the Farris wheel:
Next on the programme, the Hunderwasserhaus – a curious housing estate only a short walk from Prater. From the outside it looks a bit like pisstake version of Casa Batlló in Barcelona (and I am still not decided whether I was supposed to take the building seriously or not, but it’s worth checking out).
I parted with my friends for the rest of the afternoon. They headed back to the flat, while I said I wanted to see and maybe photograph some graffiti that I had spotted from the tube on the previous day, and would walk home eventually. Which was partly true, but most of all I craved to be alone for a couple of hours. Also, these may turn out to be the best pictures of the entire stay.
Last day – most of us were leaving after lunch. We managed a quick visit to Secession building, a museum built on purpose in 1898, because the young artists needed a space to expose their artworks. Nowadays it serves as contemporary art exhibition venue, but the thing most people come to see is the Beethovenfries, a large wall painting by (have a wild guess) Gustav Klimt. It occupies one room, it can be easily seen in 15 minutes, and in my opinion, it’s the best Klimt to be seen. The painting is eerie, delicate, and tells the story of the voyage that a human soul has to undertake to find fulfilment and peace. According to Klimt, this can only happen through poetry and art. Oh, I so hanker for this to happen. Trust me. I wish I could I feel fulfilled through something higher, more noble, something that does not involve loving other humans, (or worse, wishing (expecting) to be loved in return). I guess I need to start taking better photographs then.
Missed: Apart from the sewers from The Third Man, definitely an evening in the Staatsoper. Actually I had suggested it, but we would have to choose between 6 hours of Wagner, or Lady Macbeth of Msentsk District. I would have loved to see especially the Shostakovich, but I also realized that neither was a suitable piece for opera beginners.
Omitted: Spanish riding school and Sissy museum. No thanks. But if horses and dresses of long-dead princesses are your thing, by all means, go. Schonbrunn and many other palaces. There are too many of them to fit into a single visit. Sacher cake in hotel Sacher cafe. The place does not accept bookings unless very early in the morning, so you have to queue at least an hour for a chocolate cake with apricot jam. I don’t even like sweets.