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This past weekend, I went with my program to Vienna. We started with a five hour bus ride and a two hour guided tour of the city after we arrived.

Since our guided tour lasted a little bit longer than scheduled, we were hungry by the time we got to the hotel. Lesa, Carley, Kathleen, and I went out to find food. We walked down the main street by our hotel. We used McDonald’s wifi to check out trip advisor for close restaurants. We found one called Mill on Millergasse. When we got there, they told us there was no room because you have to make reservation, but there was room outside. It was a covered area so it was great. It was even decorated nicely.  The menu was only in German. This is a good sign when the menu is only in the local language because it means not many tourists go there. We figured out what most everything was between all four of us. We all four had a beer and the Weiner schnitzel. It is a piece of thinly sliced pork, breaded and cooked. I liked the beer better than the one Prague is famous for. It wasn’t as heavy. It came with potato salad. Or their version: cold potatoes with little onions in vinegar with lettuce sitting on top. It was surprisingly good. We stayed at the restaurant for a little bit just hanging out and chatting. We walked around a bit on that main street and found a place for dessert. I had a hot chocolate and a piece of pecan cake. Both were delicious. Papa Miller would have liked the cake I think.  The other girls had an apple strudel, a piece of cheesecake, and a slice of the famous Viennese chocolate cake with apricot jam. I tried all of them. The pecan was still my favorite. We went back to the hotel after dessert. We didn’t want to be tired for our day of sightseeing tomorrow. We all went back to my room and watched the updates of the bombing in Boston. The FBI had released pictures of the two suspects and were looking for them.

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Lesa, Kathleen, Carley and I met for breakfast downstairs. Then the entire ISA group went to the Hofburg Palace, the winter residence of the Hapsburg family. Franz Josef I and Elisabeth were the primary residents. I learned so much during the audio tour. Initially, Franz Josef was going to marry Elisabeth’s older sister, but when he met Elisabeth, he fell in love with her. She was 15 at the time. So they got married. The first few years they were married, it was good. But soon the pressure of being in the spotlight and politics became hard for Elisabeth for handle. Her care free spirit slowing diminished and her daughter’s death at the age of two didn’t help. She was obsessed with her body image. Standing at 5’8’’, she only weighed 100 pounds, had a twenty-inch waist, and had ankle length hair. In the tour, it say it took almost three hours a day for the maids to fix her hair. While she was sitting and waiting, Elisabeth read books and learned other languages; she was fluent in German, Hungarian, Italian, and was learning Greek. She worked out for hours a day. They said she ate a big European breakfast most days, but also fasted for weeks at a time only eating oranges or drinking milk. They had life size replicas of her dresses and it was like a child. The wait was the width of my hand – wrist to tip of my middle finger. She had four children: the first one died at age 2 and one of her sons committed suicide at age 30. She frequently visited spas to relax and get away from the political life in Vienna. When she was getting on a boat after a four-week stay in France, an anarchist stabbed Elisabeth in the heart. She normally tried to keep her presence under wraps but a newspaper found out and printed a story about her stay. Originally the anarchist was on his way to kill someone else but that man’s plans had changed and was not longer in the town. He was going to find him when he heard Elisabeth was in town and since she was much more important that the first man, he went to kill her instead. With that, our tour ended. I loved getting to learn about the history of each city. I learned bits and pieces in school, but I learned it to pass the test. It had no meaning. When you are actually there, standing in their dining room, it becomes much more real. Everything in Europe is so intertwined. One of the balconies off the palace is where Hitler gave the speech that annexed Austria into the Third Reich. Our tour guide conveniently left that out of his facts. I tried to snap a few pictures on the tour.

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After the tour ended, Lesa, Carley, Kathleen, and I went to a café in the palace our advisors had recommended. They have never steered us wrong so we went. I had a traditional cup of Viennese coffee called Malange and a piece of strawberry and cream cake. Super yummy.

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Then we headed to tour the Vienna Opera House. It was very pretty, but not as pretty as Prague. A lot of things in Europe are subsidized by the government so for students, we get into many places for cheap. The opera tour was about $5. Our guide said that the opera has a yearly budget of about $90 million a year; they never make a profit. At the Vienna opera, no shows go on two nights in a row. They can have as many as 6 operas per week. That means there are over 200 people on the stage crew who work every day changing out backdrops and preparing props for that night. The hall holds over 2,000 people, but there are seats that sell for one euro because they have no view of the stage at all. Who would build something like that? I was thinking to myself. I definitely think the Prague National Theater is prettier. I saw the opera Carmen two weeks ago with my roommate. The music was my favorite part.

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After the opera house tour, we bought our metro tickets and headed to the Schonbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs.  It was grander than the winter palace. We didn’t tour the inside because of time restraints. We went straight to the gardens in the back. We were there as the plants were starting to bloom; I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be in the summer. I was so happy to see green grass and colorful flowers! It made me so happy! The view from the back of the residence towards the fountain was incredible. I’m sure I stood there over a minute with my jaw wide open. My aunt Ruthie would have loved it. We took and few pictures and then wanted to go through a maze. We had to pay 2 euros to get into the part of the gardens with the maze. We almost didn’t do it but I am so glad we did. Not only did it take four college girls over twenty minutes to figure out how to get through this maze, we went the same way so many times I quit counting. There was a platform in the middle that overlooked the maze. So many people watched us struggle and you could see them laughing at us. When we finally made our way to the platform, we just laughed. The maze was SO SMALL! We couldn’t understand how it took us so long. Then we found a maze but we could see over the hedges in this one. It had some cool games in it though. It had a water fountain that spit water when you stepped on this beam, a xylophone in the ground, these boards mounted on springs to jump back and forth on, and an area of mirrors. It was so much fun. We kept finding more things like these in this area. It was so much fun. There was a seesaw with four seats. So of course, we played on it. It was so much fun pretending to be a kid again. I don’t feel like I am 21 about to stay my senior year of college in a few months. It has gone by so fast.

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After an hour of playing in the park in the gardens, we hiked up the hill. While we had stopped to take some pictures, we met Dana, a girl from San Francisco who was in Vienna with her work. We talked to her for a while and ending up hanging out with her for the rest of the day. The view from the top of the hill was amazing. You could see the gardens, the palace, the city, the church in the main area of town, and so much more. We stood up there for a while then climbed back down to the gardens. The sun had finally started to peak through the clouds. We then headed to find dinner.

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The area by our hotel was great. We didn’t want to eat on the main street so we wandered around until we found a restaurant that was open and sounded good. Most shops in Vienna closed at 6pm, especially the local stores and restaurants. We finally found a place that is typically local people. We all had the Weiner schnitzel. It again came with potatoes but not lettuce this time. It was yummy. The girls I met in Budapest recommended an ice cream place on the main road beside our hotel so we headed there next. They said it was the best gelato they ever had; even over the places in Rome. It was three scoops for three euros so I got coffee, nutella, and strawberry. It was so good. I thought I was eating an actual strawberry. Better than any ice cream back in the States. Except maybe my dad’s home made vanilla. It was around 10 pm at this time and we hadn’t been back to the hotel since we left at 10am. So walked back there and all collapsed on the bed. We had planned to go to a jazz club but didn’t make it. We were all tired and feet were hurting. We made plans for the next day and for Dana to meet us before we had to leave to return to Prague.

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We watched BBC and found out the FBI had killed one of the suspects and were conducting a door-to-door search for the second one. They found him lying in a boat, wounded from the shootout with the police.

April 21, 2013

Lesa, Carley, Kathleen, and I all met downstairs for breakfast around 9:15am. A few minutes later, Dana arrived. We ate and headed to the Holocaust Memorial in Stephenplatz. It is a monument dedicated to the 65,000 Jews who died from Vienna. The monument is books turned around so you can’t see the spines. I’m not sure about the symbolism on this but I’m sure it’s something. We walked back to the church in the middle of the city. Since the souvenir stores had closed the previous day before we had a chance to go to them, we checked out a few places. We then got one last cone of gelato. I had lemon and strawberry again. At 11:30am, it was time to go back to the hotel to get on the bus back to Prague at noon.

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We had another five-hour bus ride back to Prague. I wasn’t ready to leave Vienna. It was sunny and beautiful. The city felt like a mix of Prague and Berlin. Old and new. It had the architecture of Prague but the grandiose feel of Berlin. It is by far my favorite city I have visited.

Vienna inspired Billy Joel to write a song that I have come to love in the past two years. I was hoping it would live up to it. It definitely does.

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