Tag: House of Habsburg

TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Vienna

Traveling is a disease that only has one cure, more traveling. While I enjoyed my time in Vienna I came away from Vienna knowing that three days were not enough to fully see the city, but here are a few observations about a city that I will have to return to on my next trip to Europe.

Liver paste for breakfast?

Liver paste for breakfast?

10. This product (Liver-spread) is by far the worst (wurst) thing I was offered for breakfast. After nearly a month in Europe I had adjusted to breakfast European style (cold meats, cheese, coffee, juice), but liver paste did not make it into my indifferent mouth. Why someone would eat something like this when they wake up is beyond all rational explanation.

9. Vienna’s outdoor music film festival is one of the best ways to spend an evening even if you don’t have a clue about opera. Actually, knowing a little about opera would probably help but it didn’t hurt me too much, other than not knowing what was going on and what was being sung I enjoyed the atmosphere and food. It is a great, non-threatening way to sample opera, like trying a food sample at Costco if you don’t like it you can just push on through without getting dressed up at all.

They let anyone see the opera, even idiots like me.

They let anyone see the opera, even idiots like me.

8. Vienna has the best plague column ever. I have not seen all the plague columns in Europe, but I find it hard to believe that any city has a better one than this:

Plague column or pile of stuff laying around the sculptor's backyard?

Plague column or pile of stuff from the sculptor’s backyard?

Topped with golden holy stuff.

Topped with golden holy stuff.

The original battle royale: angels and demons.

The original battle royale: angels and demons. Baby angel stabbing plague demon= awesomeness.

Most columns are actual columns, but Vienna was like, “You want a plague column? I’ll show you a plague column. Here’s a pile of stuff.” I’m sure other European cities were upset because it really isn’t a column as much as a pyramid of marble and gold, and I am sure there were howling protests at the annual plague column contests, but Vienna just told everybody else to bite it. Now since I am an American and did not suffer through the plague I wonder why all the cities built these monuments to thank God for killing off 1/3 of the population, but I won’t get too high and mighty since we have a statue of a fictional-hero boxer (Rocky) somewhere in Philadelphia.

7. People in Vienna like coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes. I had not seen a cigarette machine in years and felt a little twinge of nostalgia when I saw these guys sprinkled around town.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em. Enjoy freedom and cancer.

6. Vienna has the worst (wurst) manhole covers of any major European city. Come on, Vienna! Since you claim to have the best drinking water in the world you might want to take the manhole covers up a notch or two.

Be ashamed Vienna! I want to see some better manhole covers when I come back next time.

Be ashamed Vienna! I want to see some better manhole covers when I come back.

5. Are there lots of blind people in Vienna? This puzzled me because of these signs on the trams.

Seats for people with white arms, white babies, white gloves and glasses, and old Michael Jackson fans?

Seats for people with white arms, white babies, white gloves and glasses, and old Michael Jackson fans?

Are the old people and the blue people blind? Do I have to give up my seat to anyone with a cane?

Are the old people and the blue people blind? Do I have to give up my seat to anyone with a cane?

Many transportation systems have signs like this, but Vienna’s blue people confused me. Are they blind, or are they injured? If they are injured, then why the creepy John Denver glasses? The old lady’s hair is a concern also, but I am not sure why.

4. Public scales? I saw several public scales around town and wondered why they were there. Is there a problem with people being overweight in Vienna? If so, this seems like an odd way to solve the problem, but usually the scales were near fast food booths so maybe somebody was just trying to subconsciously nudge people to refrain. Remember, Vienna is where Freud lived.

You sure you want that schnitzel?

You sure you want that schnitzel?

3. Telephone booths? This was a little like seeing a T-Rex walking down the street. I actually saw a few people using the phones while I was wandering around town. I wasn’t sure if I had stepped into a wormhole and traveled back in time, but I did not see any Border’s Books or Blockbuster video stores, so I figured I must be in present day. The Viennese have done an excellent job of preserving the past and the phone booths must be just another relic they figure is worth keeping around.

Clark Kent should move to Vienna.

Clark Kent should move to Vienna.

2. Are you allowed to do anything in a Viennese city park? Usually there are a few rules for people to follow, but this is getting a bit out of control.

You can put ice cubes in large cups in this park, but that is it!

You can put ice cubes in large cups in this park, but that is it!

I’m not sure what happened in this park that caused the city fathers to put this sign up, but it looks like this park was a lawless Thunderdome of a place. No zebra-faced dogs! No jumping jacks and tossing heads around! Mr. Heat Miser is not allowed! No teepees! Don’t put your legs between balls! No water walking! Enjoy all the large ice cooled beverages you like.

1. Vienna is a fantastic city.

TSOJ: A Trinity of Vienna’s Cathedrals, and Why is Siegfried’s sword so small?

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.)

The interior of Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore).

The interior of Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore).

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.

Fancy stuff like this would distract me too much.

Fancy stuff like this would distract me too much.

The exterior of Maria at the Shore on the right, but the horse carriage is the real star of this picture.

The exterior of Maria at the Shore on the right, but the horse carriage is the real star of this picture. These horse carriages are all over Vienna and if you want to waste some hard-earned money you should go on one and tell me if it was fun.

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.

The short spire at St. Stephen's.

The short spire at St. Stephen’s.

Is this a little too big?

Is this a little too big? Cheapskates on this side of the gate, people with two hours to waste on the other side.

Who would listen to the priest if all this was available to look at?

Who would listen to the priest if all this was available to look at?

The big spire and its fancy roof.

Stepansdom’s big spire and its fancy roof.

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.

The interior of Peterskirche.

The interior of Peterskirche.

Wow! Delivering a sermon from here would make you feel like a big shot.

Wow! Delivering a sermon from here would make you feel like a big shot.

More over the top decor.

Want some action in church? Here you go.

This could distract me for days.

This could distract me for days. The blurred effect is because my hands were still shaking from anger at the Greek restaurant.

Boo Yah!

Boo Yah!

Little three-headed babies carved into the pews. Little three-headed babies carved into the pews.

Well, hello there, Mr. Dead Dude.

Well, hello there, Mr. Dead Dude.

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.

My right ankle is usually a dainty number, this swelling concerned me enough to take a picture of it.

My right ankle is usually a dainty number, this swelling concerned me enough to take a picture of it.

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 wasn’t.

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.

Finally some action.

Finally some action.

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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TSOJ: A Vienna Bike Tour with The Terminator

Before most bike tours start there is a tiny tutorial about how to use the bikes, the bike rules in the city, and how to avoid getting killed on the bike tour, but not with Walter (pronounced Valter for those of you who speak English properly.) Walter simply asked if we all had bikes, looked to see that we all had bikes, and then he began riding away from us assuming that we would follow. His assumption was half correct. About half of us followed, and the other half of the group had some difficulties turning around, hopping on their bikes, and beginning riding. It wasn’t long before a city block separated the two groups and I was a little concerned for the trailing pack, my job as “Ass Man” made me keenly aware of the difficulties of being in a trailing group. Sometimes traffic lights delay progress, sometimes it is a slow rider, and sometimes it is just fate, but usually the group leader is a little concerned about splitting the group and will slow down and wait, but not Walter/Valter, I never saw him turn around to check on the progress of the pack he just kept rolling forward like he had to be home for cable installation between 5:00 and 5:05.

Walter rode for another block or two and then stopped. He turned around, saw that half of the group was still missing, shook his head, wondered aloud why the people in the back were so far behind, and began talking about the opera house without waiting for the slow pokes. There were two distinctive attributes about Walter that I instantly loved: 1. He made fun of everything not Austrian. 2. He sounded exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he talked. “I am going to use a bad word now for you Americans, Socialism. That is vhy ve have the best drinking vater, the most livable city in the vorld, and if I have to go to the hospital I don’t pay anything.”  Walter did not just give America a bad time, Germany, France, England, and Russia would all get tossed under the bike tour’s wheels at some point along the way, but Walter did it with good humor and the type of boasting usually reserved for American Olympic teams.

Athena agrees that Vienna is a great looking city.

Athena agrees that Vienna is a great looking city.

When we rode by a large statue of Goethe I asked why we hadn’t stopped (mostly this question was poised so that I could show off that I knew how to pronounce Goethe’s name.) Walter did not skip a pedal push, “He’s German, nobody cares about him.”

The tour followed the ring circling Vienna’s old downtown area and before too long I realized that Vienna has the most beautiful buildings in the world. Each city has its own beauty (I am excluding Bakersfield from this observation) and spending time anywhere a visitor can find things to like about a city, but most cities are limited in what they can offer a visitor who is there for a short period of time.

My requirements for a perfect city to visit: 1. Great, easy to understand public transportation, 2. A city plan/map that is easy to understand, 3. Great museums, 4. Beautiful buildings, 5. Green spaces, 6. Temperate climate, 7. History, 8. Walkability, 9. Food, 10. Je ne sais quoi.  On a 0-5 scale most great cities will score in the high 30s and low 40s using my scientific scale. Take Paris for example: Transportation: 5, City Plan: 5, Great Museums: 5, Beautiful Buildings: 5, Green Spaces: 5, Temperate Climate: 4, History: 5, Walkability: 5, Food: 5, Je ne sais quoi: 5, for a grand total of 49. That is a pretty good score. London might end up with a 42 (city plan is terrible, and London is not really a walkable city unless you want black lung.) Bakersfield: 5 (great Mexican food, everything else is a zero.)

Anyway, as we rode around Vienna, I began to believe that Vienna might be a 50, and I am sure Walter would have agreed. Since Vienna was the center of the Hapsburg Dynasty it still has the structure of a world leader, but the importance of Austria as a global power has diminished and I have the feeling that this has allowed Vienna to relax and focus their monetary assets internally as opposed to trying to run an empire.

That is one big, two-headed Eagle.

That is one big, two-headed Eagle.

Green spaces in Vienna are abundant. Want to rent a rosebush in the royal garden? You can.

Green spaces in Vienna are abundant. Want to rent a rosebush in the royal garden? You can.

There is a large amusement park near the Danube river. I saw this thing in a James Bond movie once.

There is a large amusement park near the Danube river. I saw this thing in a James Bond movie once.

The food tent outside the Rathaus.

The food tent outside the Rathaus.

The center of European power for 800 years.

The center of European power for 800 years.

Some royal house or something.

Some royal house or something.

By far the best Plague column I saw during TSOJ.

By far the best Plague column I saw during TSOJ.

You don't see things like this in Bakersfield.

You don’t see things like this in Bakersfield.

The golden dome was designed by Klimt.

The golden dome was designed by Klimt.

Just another Vienna building.

Just another Vienna building.

Walter telling half the bike riders about the fountain.

Walter telling half the bike riders about the fountain.

Public housing Vienna style.

Public housing Vienna style.

All in all the bike tour took about two hours and Walter was able to make it to meet the cable man in time. I think he also mentioned a meeting he had with a couple beers, but in my opinion Walter earned those beers. He did not lose anyone on the tour, he entertained me, he did not tell any lies (as far as I can tell), and he did have a lot to say if you kept up with him.

 

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