Friday, November 28, 2008

Speaking of Vienna...

Okay, so it's finally time for me to actually post about my birthday weekend. I've kind of said a little bit about a few of the things that we did, but I wanted to fill in a few more details, and also add a few more pictures. So we started out on Friday going to the Belvedere which is where we saw the really incredible Klimt exhibit. Before we went into the exhibit we walked around and checked out the palace, originally built for one of the kings of the Hapsburg Dynasty just because he wanted it. The view was really impressive and the photo taking really started there.

Rachel and I just couldn't help bringing back the Hong Kong pose. It's sort of in our blood after so much time spent there. I don't do it so often when taking photos here. People tend to sort of look at me like I've lost my mind if I do, but given the right company it just comes back to me as being the most natural thing in the world.
When we were leaving the art exhibit I saw this lady sitting near one of the statues and she just struck me. I sort of stood so that it looked like I was taking a picture of the statues, but I had to capture her, with all her contempt for the sun and the laws that would generally make people think they shouldn't sit behind the chain...
We continued our trip around the city, heading next for the amazing Schonbrun Park. The name means beautiful fountains, and we were very impressed by both the fountains, as well as the views and all the beautiful walkways. Within this park is also the first ever zoo, begun by Maria Tereza who wanted to be able to look at exotic animals, and therefore exotic animals were brought for her entertainment.

I won't guarantee that the photos are going to go in the way I ordered them, so I won't say which one is which, but one of these shows the amazing view down over the city of Vienna, and the one of the woman and the cornucopia is part of the amazing and enormous fountain in Schonbrun.
Next we made our way to the Christmas Market or Cristkindlesmarkt. It was set up in front of the Rathaus which is the city hall. Rebecca thinks it resembles Hogwarts from Harry Potter, and Rachel and I agreed that it was a very impressive building. They have the windows set up to be a massive advent calendar. Since it still wasn't December yet, we didn't get to see any of the windows open, but I can only imagine that it's very impressive.

After the Christmas market we went and did a little shopping. For a while I've been feeling like it might be time for me to start growing up. I mean, I was standing there, poised on the edge of my twenties, and it just seemed like the time to do something new and different and age appropriate. So, I went a little crazy, blessed by a 5o% off sale, and I bought a big girl coat. It's really quite beautiful, and just seemed like the thing to do. So after we took a break at the hotel, we dressed up and headed out to the Symphony, all dressed up and looking like we belonged there.

I have to say it was pretty amazing to experience the Vienna Symphony. I'm not generally the biggest fan of classical music. I mean, I don't usually pop it into my CD player and listen. Dad has always been a big fan, and every time I would get into a car after he'd been driving I'd have to change the channel on the radio, because to me, putting on a classical radio station is just like asking to be put to sleep. But being there in the beautiful concert hall really added something to the evening. The music was magical and moving. All the same, after the first set, we decided that if we stood there any longer we'd be asleep on our feet. So we moved on to a cafe (which is what you're supposed to do in Vienna) and had a bit to eat and something to drink before calling it an evening and crashing back at the hotel.

For some reason the pictures are loading really slowly today, so hopefully I'll be able to add them in. It's quite frustrating because I can only use my computer at Bartholomeus for one reason or another, so this is the only chance I have to put up pictures for a while. Really hope it works as this post would be rather boring without them.
On Sunday Rebecca took us to mass at St Stephan's Dom. I'd never been to a Catholic mass, and was rather entranced by the constant up and down of it. None of us really seemed to know exactly what we were doing, but we tried to keep up, and it kept us from falling asleep since most of it took place in German. The sense of ritual was fascinating to me. The formal costumes of the clergy, the swinging silver incense burner, oozing out scented smoke that rose to the amazing high ceilings of the ancient cathedral. I couldn't help but wonder about the people who have come here to worship over the centuries, or those whose sweat, blood, and tears went into the making of this incredible architectural gem.

From there we moved on to a small classic cafe. Cafe Leopold Hawelka, was established sometime in the 1940s. Rebecca gave us a nice little history, and we were fortunate enough to see the original Leopold, shrunken and hunched over in his bulky winter jacket and knitted blue hat, heading out to see the city. His son, who is now in charge of the business was the one who served us. Everything in the cafe is as it has always been. The ancient upholstery and tilted ceiling fans, the worn wood floors and walls engraved with the past of a people always passing through. It was amazing to find ourselves breathing the smokey air that has hung within the walls for decades. For a moment or two we really felt a part of this city. Starbucks just can't deliver that.

From there we took the underground out of the center of the city and headed to the outskirts where the Central Friedhof (cemetery) is located. This cemetery, built shortly after the death of Mozart, is the final resting place of the great Viennese composers Beethoven, Bach, Strauss, and Schubert. I must confess my amazement as I stood in the circle of their graves and thought of the old worn piano books of my youth. Sitting before my mother's beautiful piano, young and without any concept of where this music originated.

The cemetery was immense, and without Rebecca, our faithful guide, we would have seen little of any import, even if we were to meander for hours. She guided us well, and showed us some of her favorite spots. I was especially taken by a couple old women, tending to the graves of some distant person of import to their lives. The monument they were servicing was to police officers who lost their lives during the time that Hitler decided that Austria really ought to be his. We wandered around a large section of Russian graves as well, then made our way to the Jewish section from before the war. It's a miracle these crypts and stones were not destroyed, but remain to speak of a past of relative peace and community between a diverse group of Austrians.

After the cemetery we headed back to get some food and then we made our way to Hundertwasser House. This amazing piece of architecture really amazed me. I'd been told by some of my students that I really needed to visit it, so I was glad it was on Rebecca's list of places we really had to see. The man was a genius along the lines of Dr Seuss. His buildings are bright and colorful and they twist and turn in creative lines of fun and excitement. I could have spent a really long time there, but it was cold and getting late, so we wandered through artsy gift shops and used the Modern Art Bathroom, then headed back to the hotel.

We were only at the hotel for a moment or two before heading back out to the Christmas market to see how they looked at night. There is such a special feeling in the air at these markets. Something besides the rather insane cold. The scent of mulled wine, fresh bread, pine branches, roasted sausages and fried potatoes colors the air and fills everyone with a sense of holiday excitement. The crowds press and undulate around the stalls, and an organ grinder sent a musical tribute to the season out to all the people who had a moment to stop and listen. The colors were bright in the dark night, and I found myself dreaming of the season to come.

Tired and cold, we headed back to the hotel and I felt the immensity of the moment. It was the last night of my twenties. An era complete. It's been a decade of travel. I've been out of the US almost as much as I've been in it during the last ten years. I've stood in awe of the diversity God has seen fit to grace the world with. From ancient cathedrals to the most beautiful modern skylines this world has to offer. I've breathed in the smell of forests ancient and tropical, climbed icy peaks and basked in the sun of tropical coasts. Planes, trains, and various and sundry other automobiles have transported me over miles and miles and miles. On the train home from the Thanksgiving Retreat last weekend I was talking to Bill, one of our teachers, and it didn't take long for us to decide that I have definitely covered more than a million miles of country in my short lifetime. And there is so much more to come.
Tired, and possibly battling a fever, I came home on Monday and was greeted by the friends I've been blessed to have here in the Czech republic. They'd planned a taco dinner followed by drinks and dessert at Bartholomeus in our own private room. It was the perfect way to enter in a new decade with all the questions of the future and curiosities of a life well traveled.

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