I could have been at the Opera right now, but instead this evening I chose to go down to the Staatsoperhaus, and watch the people who actually were going to the Opera… a just as fascinating time, I assure you; followed by that other Viennese institution: dessert. After a bit more wandering, it was blogging time.
Vienna is a great city for sitting on benches and watching the people, as there are so many benches in lovely parks, by grand old buildings, or inside lovely little parks. And although I want to say that I did this a great deal (because, well, I did) I also somehow managed to see a whole bunch of the touristy “sights” as well.
My first touristy site was to be the biggest letdown yet of my trip… (that said, that’s not too bad!). I kept seeing ads everywhere for a King Tut exhibit at the Museum fur Volkerkunde (that would be “ethnology”), and I figured, well hey, I would like to see King Tut and his stuff. Well…. King Tut wasn’t there, nor was hardly any of his stuff. It was an exhibit about him, but there were only a few scattered pieces about Egypt in general, some information about the discovery of Tut’s tomb, and not a single sarcophagus in sight. I even felt a bit voyeuristic with some of the things displayed… i.e. “this necklace came from ________’s mummy, who was wearing 28 similar necklaces.” Now really, if they went to all that trouble to get prepared for death, why are we stealing their jewellery and sticking it in glass boxes!?
One the way to my second sight, in fact, right in one of the courtyards of the Hofburg Palace, I saw an interesting thing. A big roped-off area (surrounding by milling tourists, as most of the area is), with inside – an honour guard and army band facing an open doorway, beside 2 police motorcycles and a black Mercedes with a small Austrian flag on the hood. I’ve seen enough political thrillers to recognize a Head of State vehicle when I see one! So I milled with the tourists, and when the band started playing what must have been the Austrian national anthem (sounded very national anthem-y), I got my camera ready, paparazzi style, as two men in well-tailored suits came out of the building, and got into either side of the back seat of the black Mercedes. It drove off escorted by police motorcycles and another black Mercedes. Afterwards I Wikipedia’d Austrian government, and I’m pretty sure I just saw both the President and the Chancellor of Austria.
That was my biggest excitement of the day, but I did also enter the Hofburg Palace. The 3 museums covered by one ticket started with the Imperial Silver Collection which is a vast array of… dishes and table settings that belonged to the Hapsburg monarchs. Impressive in how many pieces there were, but I moved pretty quickly through there! I made it to the Sisi Museum upstairs, a museum on the life and eventual assassination of Sisi (Elisabeth), the beautiful and melancholy wife of Emperor Franz Josef, the last truly great emperor of the Hapsburg monarchy. This was a very well done and interesting museum, and finished in the Imperial Apartments – decorated as they were in Franz Josef and Sisi’s time.
A couple more museums were added to my roster for the trip. The first was MUMOK, or the MUseum for MOderner Kunst (aka the Modern Art museum). Despite the fact that there were very few “big names”, I really enjoyed it (one of my favourite Magritte paintings was there though!)… and the exhibit on “Bad Painting Good Art” was pretty fabulous. One of my top sights was a piece done in that usual abstract style of circles and lines… but it was a carpet. It looked like something you could buy at Ikea, and it cracked me up.
The second other museum I went to was the Sigmund Freud Museum, kind of a must for a wannabe psychologist like myself. This was where he practiced and lived until the very last year of his life (which happened to be 1938, when he – as a Jew – was forced to leave due to the Nazis closing in). Unfortunately, only the waiting room here was furnished as it was then – the rest is in his London home where he lived for his last year. “The couch” wasn’t here, but even the waiting room was pretty neat. The rest of the museum was a little dry…
A lot of my time was devoted to wandering. I wandered the grounds of the Hofburg Palace, the area around my hostel on Mariahilferstrasse, Stephensplatz (the main square of the city, where I also visited St Stephen’s Cathedral, another of the grand gothic cathedrals of Europe), the shopping street Kaertnerstrasse, the ring road around the centre of the city, and anywhere else the metro dropped me.
I also had some food from the area! Vienna is a dessert capital, so to be authentic I tried several different varieties. I tried “Mohr im Hemd”, a traditional Viennese chocolate cake with chocolate fudge sauce (I split this with Cara, a girl I had met from California… it was nothing too special, just chocolate cake!), apfelstrudel mit Eis (mm mm), and apple pie mit Eis (even more delicious). I also took in Vienna’s cafe culture with a hot chocolate or tea in a couple cafes.
As far as real meals go, I haven’t had any Wienerschnitzel! (I should be able to have some in Salzburg or Munich when I move on though). I did have “dumpling with sausage”… which turned out to be ground up sausage IN a giant dumpling (kind of heavy), and I had some meals on location. One location was the Naschmarkt, a bustling foodie market with fresh produce, olives & olive oil, nuts and dry goods, and a lot of little restaurant cafes. I went for Japanese, and had probably the best gyoza (Japanese dumplings) I’ve ever had, along with some sushi! (Strange that it’s Japanese that feels familiar and not Austrian)
I did also see a bit of the nightlife on a “Backpackers Party Night” (or what I would call a pubcrawl) which left from the excellent TravelShack, a backpackers bar. I’m pretty sure we did Travelshack followed by a bar called Coco and a club called Loco, which is kind of ridiculous, but… yep. Didn’t compare to the scope of the Berlin pub crawl, and the pubs are still smoke filled here (took forever to get the smell off my hair & clothes), but it was a good time. I was nervous to go alone, but then I discovered that 4 of my 5 roommates were also going (2 guys from North Carolina, 1 guy from Arizona, and 1 Australian-guy-living-in-Scotland [tricky accent for my poor hearing to decipher]), so we headed on down together, and I met lots of other people as well.