Vienna has some interesting church history, but like most history it is too complicated for me to really understand so let me condense it down a bit for you: The Hapsburg Dynasty was pretty much Catholic and therefore everybody in the Austrian Empire was pretty much Catholic. The Hapsburg Dynasty lasted 800 years and in 800 years you can build some big churches, therefore Vienna has some big churches.
The three churches I went to see on my last day were: Maria Am Gestade, St. Stephen’s/Sephansdom, and Peterskirche. These three churches were all within walking distance (if you did not get lost) and could be seen in a few hours.
The first church was a little one and had an odd name: Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore). The reason that this is an odd name is because the church is several city blocks from the green (not blue at all) Danube. A few hundred years ago the river ran right by the front door of the church and smelled like low tide. (I made the low tide thing up, but I imagine it was damp and smelled, but in the olden days everything smelled worse.)
What I liked about this church was that it was still a working church and when I walked by on Sunday people were coming out of the service and drinking wine in the little courtyard. (I assume it was Sunday, I lost track of the days about three days into my trip. Iceland will do that to you.) The congregation were having a good time and I thought, “This is my kind of church.” It wasn’t just the wine drinking that interested me, it was that the people were laughing and having fun together. If I’m going to go to church I want to have fun and not get all depressed. The problem with me attending church in any of these Catholic churches is that I would never, ever listen to the sermon. There is far too much stuff to divert focus, I had enough trouble paying attention to my dad in a pretty plain church growing up. Imagine trying to listen to somebody who is nobody’s dad (hopefully) in a church with lots and lots of cool stuff to distract a young man.
After Maria, I walked to Stephansplatz to check out Stephansdom/St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Now before I start harping on Stephansdom let me offer this: All of this information about Stephansdom is my opinion and no fact-checking has taken place.
What I liked about Stephansdom: It was huge. There is a ton of history around the exterior and inside that is worth taking a few hours to see.
What I didn’t like about Stephansdom: If you wanted to see the good stuff on the interior, you had to pay to have a tour-guide walk you around. Sure it was only a few Euros, but I hate when a church gets turned into a money-making tourist attraction. I refuse to pay to see a church for a couple reasons: 1. I am cheap. 2. A tour locks you down and you can’t just wander around. Had I allotted two hours to see Stephansdom I would not have minded but since I was on a tightish schedule I wanted to go in, get a peek at the cool stuff, and then dash off for some lunch. I had a podcast loaded on my iPod and had planned on using it to see the church, but instead I got mad and spent all of my time trying to weasel around the security barring me from getting inside. I was not successful and now I was really hungry.
I am sure you, Dear Reader, are familiar with the old saying, “Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry.” Well, I would like to add to that, “Don’t eat in a restaurant near Stephansdom when you are really hungry.” There are plenty of places to eat around Stephansplatz and since they are near Stephansplatz they are expensive. I knew this and I knew that I could find a cheaper place to eat by walking around on side streets and finding an out-of-the way spot, the problem was that I got lost and soon found myself just wanting to sit down someplace shady (not shady like crooked, but shady like without direct sunlight). I saw a Greek Restaurant that met my requirements and grabbed a seat. The waiter came over and I ordered a beer and he suggested a mixed grill. I thought that sounded good so I went with his suggestion without looking at the menu price. (Remember when I wouldn’t pay a few Euros to take a tour of Stephansdom? I was about to pay those Euros and a few more to this shady/crooked Greek restaurant.) You know how the rest of the story works out, I ate the food, I thought it was good, the bill came and my eyes popped out of my head when I saw the big numbers on the bill. I paid the fine for being an idiot and wandered off to Peterskirche.
I was a little mad when I left the restaurant and even considered skipping Peterskirche, but as I walked toward the church I calmed down and let it go. For the most part I had managed my money well and one stupid mistake wasn’t going to ruin Vienna, but I will never eat in a Greek restaurant in Vienna ever again, Mediterranean maybe, but nothing with a blue umbrellas over the tables.
Peterskirche was awesome. It is not the best looking church from the outside, but it is really something on the interior.
Peterskirche was just the right size…like in the Goldilocks story…and it was free. I found a nice seat near the front and spent about 30 minutes just looking around at all the different items. The shrine to the dead guy still remains a mystery to me. I looked for who he was, but unfortunately the church only had literature in German and even the interwebs could not solve the mystery of who he was. He looks like somebody important and probably did something important, but I guess I will have to leave it up to Dan Brown to make up something devious about the dead dude.
After my trifecta of churches it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for my final night at the opera: Wagner’s Siegfried (part 1, I think). My right heel had been hurting a little and I finally took a peek at what was going on. When I took off my day-glo shoes I noticed my foot was fat and that something odd was going on. My solution was an elegant one, I put on flip-flops and called it good.
I showed up around eight, ate some schnitzel and got ready to be thrilled by Wagner. I had high hopes for this opera. My sister-in-law is a big Wagner fan and The Ring plays in Seattle often enough for even someone as uncultured as me to know about it. I had also seen pictures of the sets for The Ring and was expecting lots of fiery action. At 9:30 the little lady came out, talked in German for 20 minutes and then gave a two-minute English recap that included some information about the importance of this production from 1976. Well, now my expectations were even higher, a ground-breaking production that was done 35 years ago that is still controversial, this is going to be awesome.
It did hold my attention for about two hours though. Here is what was ground-breaking about the performance: it was set in an industrialized age, and the actors were asked to act instead of just singing. The industrial part made the production look dull and grey. I wanted bright colors and dragons…nope. The acting part was something I assumed opera singers had always done…nope. I guess opera before 1976 was more like the old Greek Tragedies where the words implied the action. In this production the guy playing Siegfried did a lot of moving around and shout-singing. The only other guy was some really old dude with a broken sword. Now even I could tell that the sword was a key element to the story and it just so happened that there was a big iron forge sitting in the background of the stage. I was determined to see the forge turned on and working. I was not going to leave until I saw Siegfried fix the sword.
While I was waiting for the sword to be made I got to see Siegfried have a five second wrestling match with a man in the worst bear suit ever (it looked more like a Halloween dog costume) and there was a lot of conflict between the old dude and Siegfried. Eventually, an hour and 45 minutes into the opera, Siegfried fired up the forge and began smashing the old sword pieces together. I was starting to feel like my nearly two hours was about to pay off, and then…Siegfried held up the completed sword and it was about 18 inches long. I mean it. It was like Bilbo Baggins’ sword, and when it comes to swords size really matters. You can tell me all you want that it is how you use the sword, but we all know that a big sword is always better.
That was it for me, I could not take it any longer, two hours of build-up for the world’s smallest sword. I got up knowing that I would miss the last bit of the opera and something else would probably happen, but I figured no matter what happened it wouldn’t be as good as walking back to my hotel on my fat ankle.
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