no matter where you go, there you are

Monday, November 29, 2010

throw off the bowlines. sail away from the safe harbor. catch the trade winds in your sails. explore. dream. discover. - mark twain

I'm going to write a more detailed "reflections" kind of post, but before doing so, I thought it would be good to write down my "conclusion" entry from my travel notebook. Word for word, these were my thoughts as I was sitting in the airport waiting to board my plane back to Boston. Some of it might make no sense because I was just writing my stream of consciousness, but it gives a good picture of all that happened in my three weeks abroad.

  • great city for history, architecture, art
  • not wild about prices for things and people on street trying to talk to you
  • Notre Dame was my fave 
  • hostel okay; staff wasn't the friendliest; bad breakfast
  • Metro was good; got me places 
  • Chateaus - gorgeous
  • Tours' cathedral - cold, but really neat
  • tour made me sleepy but I don't think I missed much of the English narration
  • hotel - good; wish there'd been breakfast; far walk; shower took awhile to heat; best towel ever!
  • really interesting place
  • wish I knew booklet had descriptions of each place
  • huge, but I saw most of it
  • more detailed art/decor stuff made it fantastic rather than the architecture
  • crazy city drivers
  • very interesting things; both Ancient and Catholic
  • Renaissance Art - fantastic
  • sculptures throughout city - cool
  • each church pretty distinctive
  • monk bones!
  • Duomo etc. actually very nice and interesting; Tuscan overlook one of my fave places
  • Piazza del Campo - very nice
  • gelato!
  • everything had an admission fee that wasn't cheap
  • black and white marble design of Tuscan churches
  • all had fancy facades but plain sides
  • illegal bag selling
  • it's own planet and culture
  • lots of churches
  • getting lost is easy
  • boat pass - wonderful
  • flooding! so neat!
  • overall - underwhelming compared to previous cities
  • Olympic Tower - overpriced
  • Marienplatz - neat/awesome
  • Dachau - depressing
  • had lots of little things with nothing overwhelmingly awesome
  • Nymphenburg - HUGE
  • My FAVORITE place!
  • gorgeous weather, gorgeous mountains
  • cheap, cutest, central hotel. LOVED
  • crystals were trippy/weird
  • Nordpark my fave; trampling around 2 ft. of snow on the Alps with parachuters and rock cliffs
  • such an awesome, old, old, city
  • SoM!! - all the filming places
  • wish mountain wasn't closed
  • saw the Untersberg! Gorgeous! Alps diff!
  • panorama painting and my poster
  • a lot like Munich
  • not a lot to do for 3 days without spending a lot of money
  • everything had admission
  • enjoyed art museum a lot - wish I could have seen all, but I saw all paintings
  • Karlskirche - best church
  • a lot hindered by crowds and Vienna's lack of herding abilities and awful space layout
  • royalty history- very interesting
And though this has nothing to do with my thoughts on my trip, I have to add the last comment I made in the journal, from the airplane, because I don't remember it at all and I find it hilarious. It's also a great conclusion as its not a conclusion at all..."someone keeps farting; it smells."

Friday, November 26, 2010

stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey - babs hoffman

a letter of apology to Vienna

Dear Vienna, 

I want to apologize for not enjoying my time within your city walls as much as I wanted to. I feel quite sorry for being angry and frustrated instead of happy and excited, and I wanted to let you know that it wasn't entirely your fault and I don't blame you in any way. Compared to my other travels and daily routines, it looked like I neglected you a lot. I spent a lot of time in Anne's dorm and in the 3 days I was with you, I saw less than I did in the 2 days I spent in Rome. But there were quite a few things that factored into that "neglect" and my enjoyment. I think I've narrowed it down to these:
  • fatigue
  • not researching; visiting with a "resident" 
  • bad, sad weather
  • horrible crowds and terrible crowd control
  • high admission prices
  • Anne's dorm had internet and was more homely than a hostel
By the time I got to you, it had been almost 3 weeks since I departed Boston. And that was right after I'd just completed stage managing a show and working as a PA on two back-to-back feature films over the previous 8 weeks. In short, I was tired. Really, really tired. And I know that's not a good excuse because I was also tired in every other city, but mixing fatigue with the other negative factors, and it's just a bad combo.

With every other place I visited, I meticulously researched for hours the best sights, museums and landmarks. I had each day planned to the hour including contingency plans regarding what to cut if one thing took more time than others. I was prepared. However, dear Vienna, for you I was not. I left it all in the capable hands of my sister. And it wasn't that she did a poor job of showing me the city. She chose great places and I really did like some aspects of them all, but because I hadn't researched them, there was no anticipation on my end because I was completely clueless as to where we were going each day. Seeing a city with a "resident" is quite a different experience than going about it alone. I wouldn't call it a phenomenon, but in my opinion, the differences in experience are certainly noteworthy.

Finally, the bad weather made me sad. The terrible crowds and lack of crowd control made me mad. And the cost of admission to many landmarks was unattractive. Though I would of loved to see more museums and other sights, I did had a budget to stick to. All these things, plus Anne having heat and unlimited internet in her dorm, made me want to stay inside.

So in conclusion, Vienna...there were a number of factors that contributed to my disappointment with you, and my lack of desire to explore your streets. But most of them weren't your fault and I certainly don't blame you. But I'm still sorry.


PS Your Christmas Markets were amazing :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things - henry miller

December 8th, the last full day of my trip, was finally here. The next morning I would be leaving early for the airport. Anne and I began the day late, taking the time to sleep in and hang out in her warm dorm room. The layers I'd brought with me were coming in handy as the temperatures were staying low, but I think that's normal for early December. We only had a couple of stops, Votivkirche, Karlskirche and the Aida Cafe for sacher-torte, a delicacy of a dessert in Vienna.

Votivkirche was right near the Rathausplatz and it was a great little gothic church. A little like St. Stephen's in appearance, Votivkirche has two towers, both very narrow and symmetrical. But overall its  much, much smaller.
christmas trees for sale
Inside, there were tons of wall frescoes at both the back and side chapels. The stained glass was quite different than the multitude of others I'd gotten to see in the last few weeks. It was made up of larger pieces and very bold colors. Most of the church was lit by natural sunlight and since there wasn't much of that it was quite dark inside. Not to mention all the dark stone used in its design so the walls just absorb any light shining in.

We then wandered through the Rathaus Market once again...the fourth time, I think...bought some gifts and then hopped on the U-Bahn towards Karlsplatz and Karlskirche. This was one of the churches that Anne talked about when we were in Florence together, but to be honest I didn't retain much of the infomation. There were lots of churches in Vienna to keep track of. So I didn't remember what about Karlskirche she liked but did know she kept talking about going up scaffolding. There was a fee to go in Karlskirche so Anne opted for waiting outside while I went inside to explore.

The scaffolding Anne kept referring to was in the center of the room, set up to restore the massive ceiling frescoe. There was an elevator all visitors were able to go up and then a series of stairs that brought you to the very top of the dome where you could look out the teeny windows up there. Before going up, I strolled around the rest of the round church which wasn't that large. It was tall and the marble columns supporting it all were really cool. Lots of pink and browns. The organ was also very pretty.
you can kinda see the tippy top

Up in the scaffolding I thought it was really cool how close you got to be to the paintings and looking at all the detail in them. And I was only on the elevator level. Once I started the ascension of the stairs to the top, where only a few people max were recommended to be on, it got even better. The frescoes became life-like and there were so many elements to look at. Women, men, Jesus, babies, clouds...all were soaring around me. I took a ton of pictures, but here are just a sample of the ceiling.
The only part I didn't like was as you neared the top the stairs started to shake just a lil...not fun when you can look down and see how high up you are. The view from the dome was very nice but the lousy weather outside got in the way of it being better. Oh well, it wasn't going to get sunny anytime soon.

The last task of the day was to meet up with Lauren and get sacher-torte. Both Anne and Lauren had delayed this experience because they knew if they had it early in the semester they'd want it too much later on and that would be bad. It wasn't an overpriced dessert but I can say it wouldn't have been the healthiest of eating choices. But the semester for them was almost over and so sacher-torte it was. The cafe was busy and crowded and disgusting only because were were surrounded by smokers. Blech. The sacher-torte was quite good, its chocolate shell being very dark and rich, but the truffel-torte we also got was much more my style. It was much lighter and tasted like a decidant chocolate mousse. MMMMM. After fillimg up on dessert, Anne and Lauren had class to attend so I went back to the dorm to warm up and dry off. The rain had picked up again by that point so a nice relaxing afternoon and evening was exactly what I needed. I was exhausted.

For dinner we made chicken noodle soup in the dorm kitchen and I chopped the onions, carrots and chicken getting no criticism from Anne!! A great finish to a terrific trip. My trip to the airport the next morning was mostly smooth. The traim from the dorm to the train station wasn't handicapped so I had to lift my small suitcase and Anne's large one I was bringing home onto a crowded tram. I had a lot of trouble and NO ONE helped me out. They just stared. Finally, I guess I was taking too long or looked like I was in over my head because someone finally lent a hand. And when I got off, they all just rushed around me...tram people early in the morning aren't very nice.

me and my bags
Check-in was a short walk from the train departure, but I found my terminal and airline counter pretty easily. They didn't even weigh Anne's bag which was a good thing cause we had no idea how much it was going to weigh. The lady who was tagging carry-on luggage confused the s*it out of me though. I don't think she understood that I didn't speak French or German. When I went through the main terminal entrance I flashed my boarding pass to the guard and that was it, no security. Or so I thought. In the Viennese airport the security scanners are at each individual gate so that was new. And so was getting my first pat-down. Which I can say took great restraint in not squirming because it was such a tickle-inducing experience. I will now try and avoid those as best I can from now on. More so than before.
three weeks later

Boarding was an hour before departure, not 30 minutes, and I got a great window seat. The flight to Paris was short, and delayed, so when I got to Paris I prayed my next flight was in the same terminal. it wasn't and not only was it in a different terminal, but I had to take a bus all the way around the airport, go through security again and then run to my gate. I felt like I was the family in Home Alone when they're running to catch their flight. There was no one at the gate when I got there so I thought I was really late, and to top it off they gate people wanted to search my bag. Gah...not good for an anxious person. Turns out the flight wasn't that full hence all the people being on board already. And I ended up sitting for almost a half hour before we even departed the gate. At least I made it.

Six or so hours later I landed safely in Boston. And an hour or so after that I was finally home.

no one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow - Lin Yutang

Sunday, November 21, 2010

the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes – marcel proust

Day 2 in Vienna was all about the palaces and the royalty of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Anne and I began the morning at Hofburg, the winter palace of the kings and queens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which ruled most of central Europe for hundreds of years until the dynasty's fall. The assasination of Franz Ferndidnand, which kick-started World War I, really did the Hapsburg family in. Anne, by living here in Vienna, knew all about the family and kept talking about them as if I knew exactly who Maria Theresa and Sisi were. Yeah, no idea. They're not in our history books.

Part of the admission price of Hofburg is the inclusion of the audio guide which would have been great had it not been abnormally crowded. The palace had run out of guides so we got pamphlets with all the same information in the guide instead. Though a good substitution, it really didn't work out well. Yes, in the beginning it was nice reading about all the artifacts they had to look at from the really cool porcelain collection, silverware, gold tables, chalices, etc...but the layout of the museum was so narrow, complicated and CROWDED that my attempt to follow along failed miserably. Anne had already been to Hofburg before so she didn't really care about the informational part. I did however, and since I don't like disorganization or crowds my patience started to thin. There was a lot to see and learn but it was just so hard.

The second section of the palace to see is the "Sissy" museum. From what I learned by asking Anne "who the hell was Sisi?" she is the Princess Diana of Austria. So famous, but never entirely the ruler in charge. And she was murdered so with life cut short, she's now immortalized in the Austrian culture. The Sisi Museum, to be truly honest, was a creepy and trippy. A dress she wore to a funeral was one of the highlights, glowing eerily in the dark. Narrow passageways, really low light, black walls and all of her posessions encased for eternal protection. Oh yeah, and people. Lots of people. All attempting to be herded through, but stuck in the worst traffic jam possible. Some people were listening to their audio guides, blocking the comb they were looking at from being seen by anyone else. Now the patience snapped. Anne really didn't like me complaining, but it was all I could do to not punch someone.

The apartments of Hofburg were much better than the earlier sections. Though still being herded through the room, the walkways were wider and at least there was light and space around me. Breathing came easier. Anne then needed to go to class so she told me how to get to Schonbrunn, the summer palace and agreed to meet there in a couple of hours with Lauren so we could do more Christmas Market shopping. There was one right there at Schonbrunn to explore.

Schonbrunn was similar to Hofburg, but gave a much better history of the family and who lived where and when, and it was mainly apartments and rooms within the palace instead of artifacts or creepy dedication special areas. There was a thing called the Sisi Pass though where you could see more of the palace than the basic pass. It may have been worth it, but I soaked in enough in what I did see. I got a real audio guide this time and it just helped so much better. It was a little less crowded and the crowd control was better so overall, I enjoyed this palace so much more. Hofburg was just like a bad nightmare, though it's probably wonderful in other circumstances.

Schonbrunn also has extensive grounds to explore. I only walked through the center part right behind the palace, all the way up the hill to the Gloriette. It was closed so we couldn't go in it or on top, but it was still great to see. The large fountain at the base of the hill was also pretty neat.

view from back of palace of gardens
back of palace
Gloriette up on the hill

I met Anne and Lauren after I finished my tour and we spent time in the Christmas Market. I had a delicious Baked Potato with a garlic sauce for dinner and then Anne and I split a chocolate waffle and caramel crepe for dessert. Great decision making on our part. We then returned to the Rathaus Market since it was so big a second time around was definitely needed. Here, I thoroughly embarassed myself in front of 2 Viennans by exclaiming to them by accident how cute one of the reindeer I was obsessed with was. I thought Anne was standing right next to me but she was on the other side of the booth. Woops. They probably just thought "crazy tourist..." But I got all my reindeer that night so it more than made up for it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

the beginning of the end

Anne and I get to Vienna late and we travel to her dorm via a series of subway and tram cars. The best part of the trek was a kebab place called "Sultan Imbiss" and their logo is the Sultan from Aladdin. Amazing.

At the dorm we settle in, I get to catch up on lack of internet capabilities and to bed we finally go. We decide Anne and I will share her twin bed because the floor is tile and I'd rather not sleep on it. In the morning, Anne puts her foot down and says she had a bad night sleeping and I will have to endure the floor for the next couple of nights. I slept fine in the bed, well as fine as it ever is with 2 people in a twin, but whatever...

Since Vienna is where Anne had been living the last few months, I didn't spend any time beforehand looking at things to do. I glanced at it, didn't like the high admission charges on everything, and decided Anne will tell me what is good and worthy to see. I also didn't want to plan too much cuz my sightseeing was dependent on Anne's schedule since we were going to go places together. We departed the train at Stephensplatz, the downtown of Vienna. Strolling through this popular, ritzy shopping district what hit me immediately was all the architecture and high-end designs on statues and around buildings. It's all very consistent and beautiful. The detail in the carvings, the gold highlights; it's magnificent.

We first went to the Kindermuseum (Art Museum). Except for the museums in Paris where my pass was accepted, I'd avoided art museums for the most part because they had the pricier admission fees and if I didn't know of anything inside, I didn't want to spend the money. I may have missed out some, but I was on budget. This one was really neat and quite large. In the Lourve I'd spent most of my time in the non-painting galleries so for the Kindermuseum I was going to start with the paintings. Anne wanted to see the sculptures so we split up and designated a rendevous time and location.

I don't remember any specific names of paintings but I was definitely impressed with all of them. There seemed to be a great mix of styles too; the Baroque and Venetian stood out in particular. There was a couple I really liked especially for the level of detail. The tiniest strokes had to have been used; the paintings looked like photographs they were so accurate.

one of my faves, but i can't remember the name
One in particular was a still life of flowers and the petals had teeny tiny water droplets.
if you zoom you can see the water droplets
After the museum we met up with Lauren and wandered through the Christmas Market between the art museum, and its twin, the history museum, across the way. Now that it was early December, the Christmas Markets were just everywhere, especially here in Vienna. It seemed like any place with people was bound to have a market. On the way back to Stephensplatz we passed the library whose archtecture design really impressed me. All the buildings did. If they weren't all built at the same time then they were just really good about making all the buildings similar and matching.

St. Michael's church was on the way, and one of Anne's recommedations, so we stopped inside. Anne told me this was one of her favorite organs she'd seen, and it was pretty cool.

Next was St. Peter's, a church one of my best friends had been to before and decided it was where she wanted to get married. I liked it, but it wasn't jaw-droppingly awesome for me. The pews and pulpit were of note and the dove in the dome was really interesting too. Moreso when I saw it in the dome of Karlskirche later on in my visit.

Aman Hof was another church we wandered into. It had a very simple exterior, blending in with the surrounding buildings. The interior was plain but the pulpit impressed me.

Last but not least was St. Stephen's in the heart of Stephensplatz. The Notre Dame of Vienna, this gorgoeus cathedral, though partially under scaffolding, held so much potential for my enjoyment. The church has 2 unsymmetrical towers which I hadn't seen before and it had a very gothic exterior. I don't know about inside since I didn't see much of it.

I guess I'm partially to blame for being so cheap and not wanting to pay for the audio guide, but it's kind of dumb for the biggest church in Vienna to require an audio guide to visit and explore 75% of the place. The rest of the public area was limited and you couldn't see much of anything. Not to mention the masses of people and the lack of crowd control. If you know me, I don't like disorganization and I don't like crowds of people so I hated this.

vienna staatsoper
We left quickly and walked through all the shopping, and all the intense decorations, to a very famous Wienerschnitzel restaurant. The wienerschnitzel was really good and putting lemon juice on it was even better. The best part was the magical potato salad served with it. Definitely a meal worth the price.
its like Target took over
The rest of the evening was devoted to Christmas Markets. I think these markets must have originated in Vienna; or maybe because Vienna seemed to be a more classy, ritzy city they have more money to put into the markets, but each market seemed to get beter. The selection was better with a lot more variety than others. And its where I found my moose/reindeer. Between the ornaments or just decorative pieces for your Christmas filled household, each reindeer I found got cuter and cuter. They were irresistible; and it took 2 more days of reasoning and decision making to decide I wanted to buy them all. They now sit on my desk looking cute as ever.

The second of the markets we went to my first night there was the Rathaus Christmas Market in front of City Hall. Lit up and decorated to the hilt, City Hall was gorgeous and the Christmas atmosphere was wonderful. The windows of the hall were converted to an advent calendar so some days had revealed messages and others were still covered. Though it was getting cold it was a great night overall and even knowing that I had to sleep on the floor with a fake pillow that night didn't smother the mood.