Wandering and Wondering

Monday, March 5, 2007

Weekend in Vienna

I just arrived back in Florence this morning after spending the weekend in Vienna for a school fieldtrip. Our group of about 15 students departed on Friday night on the sleeper train, but the compartments were rather cramped so I didn’t actually get much sleep.

After arriving we dumped our bags at the hotel and grabbed a quick bit to eat at the breakfast buffet before heading off to visit downtown Vienna. We got the subway train to Karlsplatz station and started walking along Kärntner Straβe, which is one of the main pedestrian malls. Compared to Florence, Vienna is a much more modern looking city, with wide streets and footpaths, but it still has lots of nice old churches and palaces as well.

Kärntner Straβe

Our guide for the weekend was Francesco, but “shepherd” is probably a better term to use than “guide”. His favorite phrase over the two days was “come on”, as he guided us around the city like a flock of sheep, talking about the history of Vienna and pointing out some of the cafes and restaurants he used to frequent when he was living here as a student.

The first stop on our tour was St. Stephen’s Cathedral (aka “Stephensdom”), which is a huge gothic church that was built in 1147. Providing a nice contrast between old and new, there is a very modern looking building directly opposite the cathedral. If you look closely, you can actually see the reflected image of the church in its glass windows.

St. Stephen’s CathedralReflections of St Stephen's Cathedral

Our next stop was the Hofburg Imperial Palace, which has housed a number of important people in Austrian History over the years, and is currently the official residence of the President of Austria. We visited both the Imperial Apartments and the Silver Collection, which houses a ridiculously large amount of silverware, crockery, cutlery and glasses. The imperial family obviously used to have a lot of dinner parties.

Horses at Heldenplatz (Heroe's Square), just outside the Hofburg Imperial Palace

By this time we were starting to get hungry, so it was off to a restaurant that Francesco used to eat at quite a bit during his student years. Austrian food is very similar to German, and very different from Italian. I ended up having the wiener sausage.

Lunch, Austrian style

After lunch we had free time, so I wondered around the shops for a bit and visited a couple of churches before heading back to the hotel. In the evening we headed to a restaurant in an outer suburb of Vienna called “Grinzling” for a traditional Austrian meal, consisting of plenty of veal, pork, sauerkraut, schnitzels and apple strudel. Since I’ve been in Italy, I’ve only eaten Italian food, so it was good to try something different for a change.

Meggan, Darren and Stephanie

After dinner we headed back into the centre of town for coffee. It seems like everyone else in Vienna wanted to do the same thing, because after running in the rain between two cafes which were already full of people we ended up at Starbucks.

Starbucks in the rain

On Sunday we were up early again for our visit to Schoenbrunn Palace. The inside of the palace was pretty similar to many other palaces I’ve seen in England, France and Italy, so it wasn’t overly exciting, but it was interesting to think about how these people used to live. Outside the palace there is an expansive garden. In the spring-time I can imagine that it would look pretty spectacular, but in winter when all of the trees have lost their leaves it is a little bit eerie. At the end of our tour I walked up the hill towards the so called “Gloriette” to get a nice view back towards the palace and the rest of Vienna.

Cuddle with a view

In the afternoon we had more free time, so I headed to the Museums Quartier to see some modern art. The first gallery I visited was the Kunsthalle Wien. This was housing a special exhibition called “Elastic Taboos”, highlighting the rapid cultural changes that Korea is currently undergoing as it sheds many of the taboos of the past. The second gallery I visited was the MUMOK. In terms of strangeness, it doesn’t quite out do the ZKM museum which I visited in Karlsruhe, Germany a few years ago, but it comes close. Let’s just say that the Germans and Austrians have very open minds about a lot of stuff.

At that point, my visit to Vienna came to an end. We boarded the overnight train back to Florence, and this time I did manage to get some sleep before arriving at the bright and early hour of 6.30am. Given that I was wide awake by the time I got back to my apartment, I made productive use of my early awakening by heading to the San Ambrogio market to get some photos for my photojournalism project. More on that soon, but for now, Ciao.

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