Tag: Vienna

Vienna: Keeping Things like 1780 since 1941

The Viennese are a little aloof, this happens when you rule Europe for several hundred years, but it isn’t a bad kind of aloof it’s just that the people aren’t super-American friendly. Imagine what the world will be like in another 20 years where everyone has spent 40 years on Facebook, listening to their favorite iTunes mixes, and writing blogs about their daily existence…in other words, moving to the point that everyone is the center of their own universe. I know that sounds negative, but it really isn’t meant to sound that way. I really like Vienna, but maybe that says more about me than about the city. 

What Vienna offers the traveler is a collection of some of the best museums in the world (ruling Europe and stealing everybody’s stuff has it’s benefits), a music history that is unmatched, and lots of really cool old buildings built back when Vienna was the center of the world. Now don’t tell the Viennese that Vienna isn’t the center of the universe because I’m pretty sure they still think the sun circles Austria, and again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because Vienna has done an excellent job of freezing time circa 1780. 
The visitor to the city has some big decisions to make, what do you do when there is so much to do? Inevitably you will be asked, “Did you do_____________?” And you will have to say, “No.” Because you can’t do everything there is to do in Vienna. Chose carefully, but then again, don’t worry too much about it because you really can’t make a bad decision. Went to the Leopold and not the Belvedere, oh well, the Leopold is pretty awesome…and so is the Belvedere. With this in mind, I planned carefully where I would be going and then life interfered with my plans and Vienna was set upon by catastrophic storms where the wind blew like mad and rain fell so hard I thought the sidewalks might be damaged. 
So, you ask, “What are the must sees in Vienna?” Okay, for once I will give a little advice. I think you must go to at least two art museums, you have to roll through the opera house, you must visit one of the famous cafes, and you should ride around in one of the trolleys that ride around beside the famous buildings. Then walk through the old town and get lost, it isn’t hard. Eat some street food and then step on the scales that seem to be next to all the street food vendors. (Yes, that’s right. You pay 20 cents to weigh yourself in Vienna. I don’t know why, I don’t really care, but the message is clear–you are fat.)

I put this advice to use and had three pretty productive days in Vienna. We took a tour of the Vienna Opera house. Where they have 180,000 costumes, and put on so many different operas each year it is slightly mind numbing, but you can go to the opera during the season for $3 and dress like a slob. The guide said what I was wearing would be fine. They also put on a ball every year that our guide said would cost you somewhere between $20,000-30,000, so I’d put that in the maybe category if I were you. I really can’t think of a bigger waste of money–pay that much to dress up and dance. I’d rather spend my hard earned money doing something fun like eating for an entire year, but our guide said the tickets are sold out six months in advance so as PT Barnum said, “Some people are so stupid they think the USA is going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.” 

I went to two art museums: The Belvedere and the Kunst Historisches Museum (Art History Museum). I selected the Belvedere because it has Klimt’s The Kiss. It is one of my favorite paintings, but they don’t let you take pictures of the painting because there is a room right next door where they have a terrible poster of the painting where you can take pictures if you want a picture of a poster. I have two posters of The Kiss in my classroom if you want to roll by and get a pic there too. I also like that the Belvedere has a good selection of Klimt’s other work including really early stuff that is photo-realistic. So all you Klimt haters can see that this dude could really slap that paint around with mad skillz. 

I picked the Art History Museum because they have an awesome collection of Bruegel paintings (The Tower of Babel is righteous) and have Vermeer’s Art of Painting. The Bruegel paintings are all hanging in one room, but they have hidden the Vermeer so you won’t just run into it. I’m serious, you have to walk around behind a closed door and through three tiny rooms just to find it. I would not have found it if I hadn’t reached the end of my visit and gone, “Where the hell was the Vermeer?” I then retraced my path like Hansel and Gretel and found it hiding. If you want to play a dirty trick on people then hide one of the best paintings you own in a closet. It is probably the best Vermeer because it is bigger. (That’s art critic talk for you people without a proper education.) The Rijksmuseum has a bunch more Vermeer’s but there are always 100 people standing in front of them, maybe that is why the Viennese have theirs hidden in a dark corner. 

Over my days I squeezed in the two most famous cafes in town: Sacher and Demel. These are very different spaces and let me warn you upfront, you can drop some big change in these places. We tried the Demel first and there are about 400 rules to eating there. First, walk into the cafe, go by everyone and walk upstairs. There will be a much shorter line there. You will still wait but the cafe experience is about waiting, so play some solitaire on your iPhone or take pictures of your shoes accidentally. We waited about 20 minutes, sat down, and then ordered our drinks. Then you have to stand up, leave your stuff and walk over to the girl behind the dessert glass. Tell her what you want…90% of the people get the chocolate torte so I got the apple strudel because I’m a rebel. The dessert girl will give you a little piece of paper and then you take that back to your table and hand it to your waitress. 20 minutes later you will get your desserts and they will either be worth the wait or not. I ordered a big beer to drink to pass the time. I was the only person drinking a beer in the place and I was also the only one who ate the apple strudel…which wasn’t as good as other apple strudel I have had. I wanted whipped cream on it but I guess that isn’t done. It was done in Inglorious Bastards so I guess Tarantino has some explaining to do. 

The next day we went to Cafe Sacher and I had the time of my life. First off, we were seated right away. It was about 11am. I was dressed like a slob but nobody looked at me like I was a deviant. Then as we got our seat we were treated to the best one Act show ever put on at Cafe Sacher, which is saying something because there have been some pretty happening things that have occurred at Cafe Sacher. (Grace Kelly ate here, JFK, Emperor Franz Joseph, Queen Elizabeth, and it was in the movie The Third Man.) As I was saying before I interrupted myself, I sat down and right away heard our neighbors complaining to no one in particular about their bill. I could understand them because they were American and talking in that familiar dialect called English. They had been drinking coffee like madman and now had a large bill to pay. These poor folks were operating under the impression that they were at the local coffee shop where you get unlimited coffee…and they were at Cafe Sacher where each cup costs five Euros. They each had five cups. The lady said, “No wonder they were here so quickly to replace our coffee.” Yeah, that’s it, this place is hard up for cash and thought they would soak a couple rubes and squeeze a few extra Euros out of them. My wife and I have been married long enough to know when it is time to talk and when it is time to listen/eavesdrop. This was eavesdropping time. We did order our food, after I asked the waiter if it was too early to order the tower of Sacher treats. “Oh, no, now is a good time,” was his response. It reminded me of the time I asked a German waiter if I should have beer or a strudel for dessert, “Why not beer and strudel?” He said. By the time the couple got up to leave we learned a lot about them: they were staying at the Hotel Sacher, they wanted their bill reduced, they thought the hard boiled egg was not hard enough, and then there was a misunderstanding about what room to charge the bill to because the room they gave was not the one they were registered in. Anyway, it was worth every cent of the tower of treats. (By the way, the tower of treats costs half of what our neighbors drank in coffee. It would be poor behavior to discuss the actual cost–22 Euros–because high class people don’t talk about money.) After couple #1 left the table, my wife and I were having such a good time. Maybe it was the chocolate, maybe we are just the right people for each other, maybe it was because we really shouldn’t be eating in places this nice, but anyway, the lady sitting to the West of us said, “Enough laughing you two.” She was also American and from Seattle…and soon we found out we knew a bunch of people who they knew…there you go, you travel all the way to Cafe Sacher to meet some people you probably already knew. (My wife said that the chocolate torte at Cafe Sacher was much better than the one at Demel, and my wife knows a lot about chocolate.) 
After our visit to the cafe, we walked around the old town and got lost. We walked into a bunch of churches and looked at the bits and pieces of dead people stored in pretty awesome boxes and enjoyed our freedom to just get lost. There are plenty of churches in Vienna and St. Stephens is the only one where you have to pay a little bit to look around. The rest of them are cool with you coming in and looking at their art and relics, but don’t walk around talking on your cell phone like an idiot.  

The highlight of my visit was going to be an evening outdoor opera that the city puts on every summer. I was really (I’m not lying) looking forward to sitting outside and watching a bunch of people singing songs that I hadn’t really heard before, but the damn Euro Cup cut the outdoor opera season short and I only got to see one opera for free: La Boheme…and that is only half of the story. The best part of the night was what happened before the opera. 

One of the best parts of the opera experience isn’t the opera itself, it’s the fact that lots of restaurants set up little booths and serve food and drinks. This isn’t a paper plate kind of deal, these meals are served on plates and glasses are filled with beer and wine. I like this kind of thing, eating and drinking. Anyway, because this was the first night of the season, it was crowded. (I’d bet it’s always crowded.) It was so crowded that finding a seat to eat your fancy meal was challenging, so humans being human started staking out their territory. I had an advantage, my wife. So we found a table, she sat down and saved our spot and then I went hunting and gathering like the old days. Other people dashed around like a really big game of musical chairs looking for a place to sit down. Two people decided that they would “hold” their seat by putting their meals down on a table and then come back with their drinks. This is something that wouldn’t happen in America because someone would probably steal your unattended food. And guess what? The same thing happens in Vienna. 
There was a lady walking around waiting for her chance and when she found it she pounced. First she shoveled everything into a plastic bag she had for such fine dining experiences, and then she realized she had plenty of time, so she ate the bits she missed tossing in the bag and then strolled off like nothing happened. I took pictures of the whole thing because I am a bad person who found the incident pretty awesome. If it had been my food, I would not have thought it was funny at all, but I’m not stupid enough to leave my food out for someone to steal. I don’t trust the better angels of mankind. Could I have stopped the lady and reported her? Sure, but I don’t think she was doing this because she had a gambling addiction, she looked like she needed that meal more than the idiots who left it there. 

I’m no criminal, but I would figure once you get your food it would be a good time to hightail it outta there, but this lady stuck around and kept at it. I don’t know if she got any more food, but she was still on the lookout for more. It probably got easier as the night went along because people tend to drink a fair amount when they are about to watch a free opera. I’m not saying that you need to be drunk to enjoy opera, but it might not hurt. 

Eventually, La Boheme started and I think there was one song I had heard before, but Opera isn’t one of those deals I really get. The music doesn’t seem to match with the singing and I don’t understand what is happening 80% of the time, but I do get to say, “When I was in Vienna I saw an Opera…La Boheme.” I probably won’t say I left early because it was cold and that I ran out of toothpaste and all the stores were closed because that will make me sound like an idiot. 

An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Vienna

Today we will be examining a manhole cover from the city of Vienna, Austria. In the United States, Vienna is primarily known as the place that produces those little sausages that come in cans. (I did not see any of these sausages while in Vienna, but there was an attempt to get me to eat liver paste for breakfast.)  Vienna should be known for more than sausages but it is easier for Americans to remember facts related to food than anything else.

As you can see this manhole cover is going to be a challenge, but that is why God placed me on this spinning globe.


Vienna has a pretty boring manhole cover that is until I say the magic word: Illuminati!

At first glance this manhole cover appears to be pretty simple and utilitarian. That is exactly what the Illuminati want you to believe. Who are the illuminati and what do they have to do with Vienna’s manhole covers? I don’t really know, but ask anyone between the ages of 13 and 20 about the Illuminati and you will learn a great deal about the secret society that controls the world. How are the Illuminati connected to Vienna? Well, and I suppose I am taking quite a risk in writing this, the Hapsburg Dynasty and the Illuminati must be connected. One of the rules of secret societies and global control is that you don’t just go around blabbing about how you control everything, you make secret signals instead, because what is the fun of controlling the world if you do it publicly, anyone can do that.

So what secret messages are hidden on this manhole cover? First, let me draw your attention to the wavy lines in the center of the cover. Notice that there are three wavy lines, notice that the lines break the circle, notice that the wavy lines cover the little squares inside the circle. Now a careful observer would wonder about how many squares are being covered up by the wavy lines: Four full squares and two partial squares by my estimates. Hmm…what does it all mean? This is where the Illuminati are so tricky; they have you wondering if there is some secret message in the numbers and what the symbols might represent. The real hidden message is just a few centimeters away near the outer ring of the manhole cover.

Do you see it? The two letters: M N? Aha! What does that stand for? Well, I don’t really know because I believe those letters are actually W N. I know what you are thinking, in English a W makes a woo sound, but in Austrian a W makes a vee sound. What does it all mean? Is it possible that these letters represent directions? Yes, then is it possible that it is a map? Sure, why not. If it is a map, could guide you to a hidden doorway that leads to the Illuminati headquarters, there is only one way to know, someone in Vienna must find this manhole cover and follow the directions on the map. What directions? Well there is the big problem, I don’t really know. I suppose if I were Nicholas Cage and had a movie script it would be easier to figure out, but I will leave the searching up to my readers in Austria.  Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Well, this  brings me to the end of my wildly popular guide to European manhole covers series. Keep an eye out for those interesting manhole covers and if you see one you need analyzed don’t hesitate to let me know.

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TSOJ: An Interview with Myself

I sat down with myself, as I often do, in a chair in front of my computer and asked myself a few of the questions people have asked me since returning from TSOJ. This will be my final blog entry for a few months because I have a couple secret writing projects I am working on.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

How did The Summer of Jon come about? 

TSOJ happened through a series of fortunate events that I will not detail here in fear of boring everyone to death, but the main reason I was in Europe on my own was because I am not an understanding travel companion. My wife has endured a few of my trips and did not want to spend her vacation on a forced march across Europe. I am aware of my “problem” but I cannot help myself. If I am somewhere new I want to see everything, and, sometimes that leads me to avoiding things like food, rest, and bathroom stops. For example, when I did the Norway in a Nutshell and got on the wrong boat I did not eat for about 13 hours. I refused to pay for a boat hotdog and decided that I just wouldn’t eat. A personal decision like this is not always popular with my family members.

How did you plan your trip?

I have never used a travel agent and actually enjoy planning trips so I spent a great deal of time putting the pieces together for my trip. I always start with my airline ticket. I spent about a month watching airfare and trying to estimate when rates for the summer would drop. Flying from Seattle to Europe is not cheap, but Icelandair usually has the best rates and there a few oddities about the airline that made me finally go with them. The first oddity is that all of their flights go through Iceland (not that odd considering the name of the airline). You can chose to fly right through after a layover in Iceland, but why would you do that? A few days in Iceland is a great way to shake off the jet lag and there is no stranger place to visit. You can extend your lay-over and the airline ticket cost is the same as if you stopped for an hour. Iceland is expensive, but it has the best hotdogs in the world and has the world’s only penis museum.

The second oddity about Icelandair is that it is cheaper to fly open-jawed. My flight went: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Munich–Iceland–Seattle. Had I gone: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Oslo–Iceland–Seattle it would have been more expensive. I knew that I would start somewhere in Scandinavia and end somewhere in Southern Europe, so I went to the airline website and began plugging in dates and different flights until I hit one that would be as cheap as possible and allow me some flexibility in planning.

After I had the flight booked, I decided where I wanted to go in between my arrival and departure. This part of the planning is the most fun for me. I knew I wanted to go to Oslo, Prague, and Vienna, and I wanted to go back to Copenhagen and Berlin. All I had to do was connect the dots. Then I looked for the cheapest and most efficient way to go from point to point. (Fly if in Scandinavia, train if in the European main land.)

The final piece was then hotels. There are lots of affordable spots to stay in Europe, but I found that I could save a ton of money by staying in places with shared bathrooms. Some people may not like this, but here is a little secret: Most of these hotels have only a few rooms that share the bathroom, so it isn’t too bad. You will also have a sink in your room. I also make sure that breakfast is included in the price. You can get an inexpensive breakfast in Europe, but I like being able to pig out in the morning and breakfast restaurants are not on every corner.

If you were to re-plan your trip, what would you do differently? 

I would trim a day off of Reykjavík and add it to my time in Prague. I would also take one of my Munich days and add it to Vienna. All of the places I went were wonderful.

Logistically, I would take earlier trains, or reserve a seat. Trains leaving after 10AM are filled with college-aged-backpack-wearing EuroRail users so there is always a battle for seating and the trains are crowded. An early train is less likely to have those EuroRail folks because it is before they are awake.

What were some of the highlights?

The Vigeland statue park in Oslo. Getting on the wrong boat on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. Eating Thai food in Berlin. The evening bike tour in Prague. Vienna…just all of Vienna.

What was the loneliest moment?

Good question. I can tell you exactly when because it was strange. I was walking along the waterfront in Copenhagen. There is a nice wide path that leads all along the waterfront to the Little Mermaid statue.  It was a beautifully clear day and I had been on the road for about a week and a half. I was listening to my iPod and a Macklemore song came on. The song reminded me of my family and wished they were with me. I recovered by eating some ice cream.

When were you the most lost?

I don’t know. In Norway if you count distance, Copenhagen if you count time it took me to get back to a familiar place, and Munich if you count directional sense. I still have trouble understanding how I got so turned around in Munich.

Why do you get lost so much?

I have decided the reason I get lost when I travel is because there are no mountains around. Where I live it is easy to get oriented by looking at the mountains or ocean. Flat land confuses me.

What scared you the most? 

Climbing the church spire in Copenhagen. I really did want to turn around and go back. I don’t know if I could go back and do it again. The afternoon bike tour in Prague was not for the weak-kneed either.

What was the strangest thing you saw? 

I saw a lot of odd things, but in Copenhagen I saw dwarves ( not little people, but like Lord of the Rings dwarves). I don’t know how else to explain it but I went into a store in Copenhagen and there were people dressed in felt tunics and felt pants. The tunics and pants were embroidered with fancy designs. They had those pointy shoes with a bell on the tip and had little deer-antler knives tucked into their belts. They were not dressed up for some party, I could tell that this was the clothing they usually wore. It was like a time machine had dropped them into Copenhagen and they were trying to figure out what the hell happened. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but refrained because I didn’t want to get stabbed to death by a dwarf in a supermarket.

What is the dumbest thing you did? 

Aside from getting on the wrong boat in Norway? Probably eating the sandwich in Prague that was “Mexican flavored.” Really, really bad choice. Oh, buying my day-glo shoes in Berlin could be considered pretty dumb, but I kind of like them now.

What is the smartest thing you did? 

Before I left I would have to say buying my backpack/carry-on bag from EBags. It is a great suitcase thingy. Once I was on the road I think most of my choices were pretty good.

What’s the deal with bike tours? 

There is no better way to see a city in my opinion. The bus tours are okay, but bike tours allow more freedom and it is a great way to meet people.

Will you ever have another SOJ? 

I hope so, but who knows. I think people need to do their own Summer of ______________.

Don’t you think it was a waste of money? 

Travel is never a waste of money. I will quote Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  

Let’s end the interview like they do on Actor’s Studio. 


What is your favorite word?


What is your least favorite word?


What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?


What turns you off?


What is your favorite curse word?

I don’t really swear. (I have just been informed by family members that I do swear.)

What sound or noise do you love?

Laughter, specifically the laughter of my family.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Techno music.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would like to get paid to write. I wouldn’t mind being a tour-guide.

What profession would you not like to do?

Anything where I have to sell stuff.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That was funny.

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: Vienna’s Belvedere

On my final day in Vienna I had some serious choices to make, had I been able to travel back in time and reorganize my trip I would have added a day to Vienna and taken a day away from Munich. (Not that Munich isn’t a great city, it just isn’t Vienna.) The number one item on my Vienna list was seeing Gustave Klimt‘s painting “The Kiss.” Just a few months before I arrived in Vienna the city was celebrating the 150th birthday of Klimt (why we celebrate dead people’s birthdays is beyond me, but I never complain when it means I get a day off of work.) The Belvedere had drawn together as many of Klimt’s paintings to celebrate his birthday as possible, but now that it was July the paintings had been returned to their owners and I would have to do with seeing a smaller collection of his paintings than I wanted, but when life takes away paintings to see, you have to make lemonade or something like that.

Klimt’s paintings are not only beautiful, they are also some of the most controversial works created in the 20th century. What makes the paintings controversial today isn’t what made them controversial in the early 1900s when they were created and the controversy is something that I am certain Austria would like to make disappear. It is estimated that the Nazis looted 20% of the art work in Europe and many of Klimt’s paintings were taken directly from the Jewish families who owned the paintings. (If you are interested in learning more about the Nazi’s attempt to steal all of Europe’s art watch The Rape of Europa it is a fantastic documentary about Hitler’s art obsession.) Many of these looted paintings ended up museums after the war and there were no efforts made to return the paintings to their rightful owners. It is shameful. A legal battle has been going on for well over 20 years for many of Klimt’s paintings and in 2011 a chunk of the paintings were returned to the families who originally owned them. Most of the returned paintings have now been auctioned off and have disappeared into somebody’s mansion (this makes me even less happy, but I suppose if I could earn a few hundred million dollars by selling something I would.)

The two paintings still owned by the Belvedere that I really wanted to see were The Kiss and Judith, so I headed off to the Belvedere thinking I would spend an hour or two looking at the Klimt paintings and then run downtown to see a few of the cathedrals in the city center, and then finish my final night in Vienna watching a chunk of Wagner’s Ring opera.

The Belvedere was once the summer residence for an Austrian general (Prince Eugene of Savoy). It must have been good to be a general in Austria because the two buildings and gardens forming the Belvedere are massive and beautiful.

That is the Upper Belvedere in the distance.

That is the Upper Belvedere in the distance.

A few of the fountains at the Belvedere.

One of the fountains at the Belvedere.

I have plants larger than this in my garden.

I have plants larger than this in my garden.

I had read that the upper Belvedere had the good paintings and that the lower portion of the Belvedere wasn’t worth seeing so I intended on just buying tickets to see the upper building. My plans changed once I started to talk to the man at the information desk. I told him that I was only interested in seeing the Klimt paintings and he told me that Judith was now down at the lower Belvedere. At first this seemed like a little bit of a scam to get tourists like me to buy tickets to both exhibits but after visiting both buildings I am happy that they strong-armed me into seeing both because the special exhibit Dekadenz was really interesting. (Of course neither exhibit allowed photography so you will have to take my word for it.)

The Klimt paintings (although limited in number) in the Upper Belvedere showed an amazing spectrum of work. Klimt’s early work surprised me the most. One of the paintings I was certain was a portrait by John Singer-Sargent when I saw it across the room was actually a portrait by Klimt. This has become my new measure of greatness when it comes to an artist, how much have they not only mastered one form, but how have they changed over time. Most of the great artists have not only pushed the form into new areas, but have also followed the flock at times showing their great skill as an artist. Picasso is the easiest example to use since his work spanned such a long period and he was never satisfied with cranking out the same old thing like other artists who found their groove and then just stayed there. Picasso’s early work could be mistaken for any of the great Spanish portrait artists but eventually he was minimizing everything in his paintings and rarely did a painting with much detail at all, so when someone sees a late Picasso and says, “I could do that,” I want to ask them if they really understand what he was doing, but being an art snob is only my part-time job.

The Kiss was as amazing as I hoped. Seeing a painting as familiar as The Kiss in real life is always a bit weird. Initially there

The Kiss 1907–1908. Oil on canvas. Österreichi...

Picture stolen from Wikipedia.

is the expected surprise at the size of the painting, maybe it is just me but I never seem to anticipate the size of the painting accurately. Either I think the painting will be larger than it is, or I think it will be smaller. I could relate my surprise at the size of paintings like the Mona Lisa, but let’s not get too off track. The Kiss was larger than I had anticipated, I would guess it was five feet by five feet. The room that contained the painting was completely black with a spotlight on The Kiss and one other painting at the other side of the room. The second painting was largely being ignored by the people in the room so I went over and kept it company for a few moments. It turned out the second painting was part of the Beethoven Frieze called: Praise to Joy, the God-descended (This kiss for the whole world). It was even larger than The Kiss and did not appear to be painted on canvas. There were deep grooves carved into the painting that could only be noticed by standing up close. Again, you will have to take my word for it since there was no photography allowed.

The next 15 minutes or so I did my best to take in The Kiss. I won’t bore you with my description of the painting because almost everyone knows what it looks like and there are probably people who know something about art who can do a better job of sounding knowledgeable.

The rest of the Upper Belvedere’s collection had some interesting paintings, but I had things to do and moved through pretty quickly. A few of Egon Schiele‘s paintings caught my attention long enough to slow my walk down, but for the most part I was out of the building and walking through the gardens like a race-walker on their day off.

Judith I

Judith I: also stolen from Wikipedia.

The Lower Belvedere’s exhibit Dekadenz was next. I really thought I would just zoom up to the Judith painting and then zip on out of the building and head off to look for food, but it ended up that the paintings and arrangement of the exhibit made me slow down and actually learn something. Dekadenz showed the connections and influence  of Romanticism on the symbolism of the Fin de siecle.  (Translation: The Romantic paintings of Gods and Goddesses reclining on clouds influenced the symbolic paintings that arrived around the turn of the century.) This connection was probably obvious to most people, but I had not noticed it before. The mystical world of the Romantics was just being retranslated for a new generation using the newer form of symbolism.

The Judith painting brings together many of Austria’s uncomfortable historical realities. The subject matter is biblical: Judith seduces the Assyrian general Holofernes in order to save her city. She gets old Holofernes drunk enough that he passes out and then gives him a close shave that removes his head from the rest of his body. In Klimt’s painting, the Judith character looks pleased with her work. Holofernes’s head is not the star of the show and Klimt seems to be indicating that sexy women are trouble for Assyrian generals (and maybe any guy who drinks too much.) The female model for Klimt was an Austrian Jew named Adele Bloch-Bauer who starred in a few of Klimt’s other paintings and died from meningitis in 1925. Her will indicated that she wished for her paintings to be donated to the Austrian state gallery upon her husband’s death. Enter WWII and the Nazis. Bloch-Bauer’s widowed husband fled to Switzerland to escape the Nazis leaving the paintings behind. The Nazis stole the paintings, changed the name of the paintings in order to remove the connections to the Jewish model and any Jewish history, and put them on display at the Belvedere. When Mr. Bloch-Bauer died in 1945 he willed the paintings to his nephew and nieces. Of course Austria liked the will that donated the paintings to Austria, and the family liked the will that passed the paintings on to the family. Eventually, 2006, the paintings were handed over to the nieces and nephew who sold them. Almost all of the paintings were purchased by anonymous buyers and have disappeared from public display so seeing any of the Klimt paintings where Bloch-Bauer was the model has become even more difficult. I would like to say that the paintings ended up with the right group, but I can’t. I doubt Mrs. Bloch-Bauer wished for the paintings to disappear into someone’s private collection, but I am certain that if she had survived the Nazi occupation and seen how Austria colluded with Germany she would not have donated her paintings to the nation who abandoned their Jewish citizens. History is never as clean as my old textbooks told me in 5th grade.

As I left the Belvedere I wondered what everyday Austrian’s felt about their history. In the United States we like to ignore our uncomfortable historical misdeeds and I get the feeling that Austria likes to do the same thing. I remember going to the battlefield of Little Big Horn in Montana where George Custer and his troops were killed by Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. There were these little white headstones scattered around the battlefield where the white guys were killed, but there were no headstones for the Native Americans that were killed in the battle. Finally, in 2003 , the National Parks added a memorial for the Indians who died trying to protect their way of life. The battle took place in 1876 and it took us 125+ years to add a memorial to the people who were the real victims of the American Indian genocide, so I guess I should cut Austria some slack.

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.


TSOJ: Vienna Has Excellent Drinking Water, or Does It?

About 20 minutes into my walking tour of Vienna, I began to think that my tour guide was making stuff up. Not the big stuff about the Hapsburg Dynasty and their 800 years of rule, but the little stuff that only someone a PhD in Austrian History would know. The first “white” lie happened when we stepped into a courtyard in the Jewish section of town. (I have  a much better understanding of European Jewish history than when I left the USA and have learned why older cities have “Jewish Quarters” and how long the Jewish people have been mistreated, but this information will be held back for a later post.) Anyway, back to the “fibbing” tour guide. We were standing in Judenplatz looking that the Jewish Memorial to the 65,000 murdered Austrian Jews. Our guide was doing her best to walk the very narrow tightrope of acknowledging that Hitler was Austrian, that Austria did not do much resisting Germany when it came to WWII, and that “some people did bad things.” These “bad things” included systematically murdering people. I can understand not wanting to be a buzz kill and ruin people’s’ vacations with information like this, but it seemed to me that the guide was glossing over the horror of the Holocaust so I walked away from her mini-lecture to take some pictures of the memorial. She had mentioned that the builders had discovered the original footprint of the Jewish Synagogue in Vienna when building the memorial.  I noticed what appeared to be some long lines carved into the cobblestones of the plaza. To me they looked like the outline of an old building, like what you can see left of the Bastille in Paris if you know to look down instead of up at the little golden boy on the spire.

The Jewish Memorial in Vienna.

The Jewish Memorial in Vienna.

I deleted the picture of the grooves in the cobblestones thinking I had just taken another picture of the ground accidentally. Careful observation of this picture shows some of the pattern caused by "the weather."

I deleted the picture of the grooves in the cobblestones thinking I had just taken another picture of the ground accidentally. Careful observation of this picture shows some of the pattern caused by “the weather.”

I waited for the guide to finish her luke-warm acknowledgement of Austria having been involved in WWII and then I asked, “I noticed these lines carved into the cobblestones. Why are they here?”

“Oh, the weather does that.”

This was not the answer I expected. Actually, I believed it was what I will call a prevarication. The weather in Austria must behave differently than weather in my area because apparently the weather in Vienna includes cobblestone cutting lasers. I decided to let it go, but as you can tell since I am now writing about it, I really didn’t let it go. Everything the guide said from that point on (two and a half more hours) I viewed through the prism of what I still consider a lie.

List of “facts” I didn’t believe during the next 2.5 hours:

1. “Vienna has been ranked #1 since 2009 as the world’s most livable city.” Really? Four years in a row? Nope, not according to my Google search. In 2012, Melbourne, Australia (the place with kangaroos not the land-locked country in Central Europe) was ranked #1. Vienna was #2 and has consistently been ranked near the top, but the San Antonio Spurs would be the NBA champs if we allowed the second place team to claim the #1 status.  I will be the first to admit that some of rankings do have Vienna at #1 and that no American cities appear in the top ten, but that isn’t important. What is important is that I didn’t believe my tour guide.

The Austrian Parliament building, not to be confused with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.

The Austrian Parliament building, not to be confused with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. The car in the foreground did not hold still for my panoramic picture.

2. “Vienna has the world’s best drinking water.” According to my Google research Vienna is ranked number five in this category. Greenwood, BC has better water than Vienna, but I will admit the drinking water in Vienna is abundant, and good. Vienna does what it can to perpetuate the myth of being the best by encouraging people to drink out of the tap as opposed to buying bottled water. This is a good thing, but it doesn’t make you number 1.

These water stations are sprinkled throughout the city to give access to Vienna's 5th best water in the world.

These water stations are sprinkled throughout the city to give access to Vienna’s 5th best water in the world.

3. “Vienna was once the world’s largest city.” Now I may have misheard this one, she may have claimed that Vienna was once Europe’s largest city, but either way, I don’t believe it. According to my research it might have been the 5th largest city at one point, but never #1. If my guide said, “Vienna was the world’s most important city in 1900,” I would have believed it. The Austrian Empire was big and important, but when it comes to population I don’t believe it was ever the largest city in the world.

4. “Freud drank coffee and invented psychotherapy in that café.” Okay, this one may be true, but I think he probably just drank coffee in the café and did his work at an office like everyone but Hemingway.

5. “Beethoven lived in 80 different apartments during his time in Vienna because he never paid his bills and was a bad tenant.” There is a good deal of truth to this one, but 80 is too high. Most experts on Beethoven’s living quarters (as if there are these people in the world) believe he lived in at least 27 documented locations with some estimates as high as 65. He was a terrible tenant and a bit of a jerk, so he did move a lot.

Beethoven slept here...and there, and there.

Beethoven slept here…and there, and there.

6. “St. Stephan’s cathedral had the tallest church spire in Europe.” Nope, never according to my Wikipedia research. It is the tallest in Austria, might have been the second tallest in Europe at one point, but never the tallest. These are the types of facts I would have swallowed if not for the “Austrian weather includes cobblestone cutting lasers” lie.

Things always look taller when you stand next to them. From France you can barely see this spire.

Things always look taller when you stand next to them. From France you can barely see this spire.

I suppose I should disclose at this point that Vienna was my favorite city to visit on this trip. It really is a wonderful place, it is organized, clean, full of history, and has excellent drinking water, but there are no lasers in the clouds.

TSOJ: A Night at the Opera…I put on pants for this?

I have never been to an Opera. I have never really wanted to go to the Opera because you have to dress up a lot more than I want to, and I really don’t know enough about the operas to enjoy them, but when I found out that I could attend an opera for free in Vienna I thought it might be time to give the grand old opera a try.

The big, big screen at the Vienna town hall.

The big, big screen at the Vienna town hall.

The opera I attended was by Verdi. Now I don’t know much about Verdi, but I do know that I have some of his stuff on my iPod for when I want music that is old and famous, it makes me seem a little more cultured than I am and I can pretend that I know something about Verdi by saying, “Verdi, ah yes, Verdi. I was listening to a Verdi aria today on my iPod.” I don’t even know if Verdi wrote arias, because the definition of an aria is unclear to me, but Verdi probably did and most people won’t call you on it if you sound confident. They might be thinking, “Did Verdi write an aria? I can’t think of one, but I don’t want to sound stupid, so I won’t ask.”

I figured at some point during the opera there would be an “aha” moment when I recognized the song and would be able to hum along with the crowd in that knowing way. This has happened to me at a couple of musicals I attended. One moment I watching the play and then next thing I know they are singing a song that I kind of know, and my brain goes, “Hey, this is that song I know. I can now mouth the words and act like I knew this song was in this musical.”

Vienna does this “bring culture to the masses” thing every night in July. It really is pretty cool. Seventeen restaurants have semi-permanent booths set up to serve food on real dishes with real silverware and drinks are served in real glasses, so it is pretty classy. They then have some concert or opera on a huge screen that is hanging from the neck of the town hall.

I heard this was a classy gathering so I wanted to make sure I made a good impression, so after a long day of roaming the streets of Vienna I went back to my hotel took a shower and put on pants, a button up shirt and shoes. I didn’t want to be the guy standing there dressed like a slob, I wasn’t but apparently the “let’s dress up” memo did not get to everyone attending the opera.  I suppose it is better to be overdressed for most occasions than underdressed, unless of course you are overdressed to participate in a sporting event. Wingtips don’t always provide the traction needed in a game of pick-up basketball, but most often it is better to be the best dressed as opposed to the worst dressed.

This is the outfit I wanted to wear.

This is the outfit I wanted to wear, not the dress, the shorts and sandals.

If your shirt and your hat match and your name isn't Duchess, it is time to change your hat.

If your shirt and your hat match and your name isn’t Duchess, it is time to change your hat.

Long pants...sometimes even long pants are a bad choice.

Acid washed pants and color treated hair? Time to take somebody’s man card.

These silk pants come from the David Carradine collection.

These silk pants come from the David Carradine collection.

Pink shorts, Red Stripe beer tank top, and Syl Stallone's mom all in one shot.

Pink shorts, Red Stripe beer tank top, and Syl Stallone’s mom all in one shot.

Black socks are not always a no-no.

Black socks are not always a no-no.

The challenge for Vienna is that there are a lot of people like me: Opera neophytes. So the vibe is more like a bar than an opera house, and I suppose this is why the Viennese come out to see Verdi on the big screen. This is one of those perfect culture traps that probably gets people into opera, but it is also one of those things that drives real opera fans crazy because there is a lot of noise in the crowd since everyone is drinking and eating well past dark.

Chicken and noodles: 7 Euros, not too bad.

Chicken and noodles: 7 Euros, not too bad.

The food booths are good and reasonably priced, but here are some tips for you noobs out there. 1. Never get a pretzel as big as your head. It seems like a good idea, but it isn’t. There isn’t anything more cliché than a guy walking around with a jumbo sized pretzel in one hand and a large beer in the other. It is like a little kid with a balloon and a oversized lollipop. 2. Eating standing up is okay, but sitting down is much better. 3. Everyone speaks English so don’t worry about limiting yourself to stuff that looks easy to order. 4. People in Europe eat much later than we do in North America, so try to eat around 8 PM. This might mean that you have to have a snack, but eating at 6 when everyone else is just arriving is a bit sad and then you will have to waste two hours waiting for the sun to go down and the opera to start.

Large cheese pretzel...maybe not such a good idea.

Large cheese pretzel…maybe not such a good idea.

On to the opera. At 9:30 this little lady came out to speak to the crowd, she was little because she was a long way from me and standing in front of a huge screen, so it was probably an optical illusion, but she might have been smaller than average. She spoke in German for a long time, about five minutes of German and then she did about 20 seconds of English. German and English are not that much different, so I knew I was losing something in the translation, but I found out the opera was named “Simon Bocanegro” which kind of, sort of rang a bell in my head. I was thinking that I might know some of the music, but then I realized that the reason the name range a bell was because there was some sports guy I knew named Carlos Bocanegro. I could not remember what sport Carlos played, so for 10 of the 20 seconds of the English translation I was trying to figure out what sport Carlos Bocanegro played. When I moved out of my brain and back into the real world I had missed most of what she said because she was now speaking Italian, I think. I went back to trying to figure out the Carlos/Simon Bocanegro problem and then finally resolved to look it up on the internet when I got back to my hotel, but my little brain still would not let it go so I distracted it by translating Bocanegro into English. Boca= Mouth, Negro= Black. Black mouth, hmmm, the opera is probably about some dental problems? or possibly it is more metaphoric and means that there is a character that has difficulty with swearing?

Let's get ready for some opera!

Let’s get ready for some opera!

Five minutes of that nimble brain activity put my mind to rest on the Carlos Bocanegro situation and I was then able to sit back and enjoy my first opera, or shall I say I was able to sit back and try to figure out what the hell was going on.

The big star of the opera was Placido Domingo, I think. I don’t really know who the star of the show was because after eight minutes I couldn’t tell what was going on.

Here are the problems I had with the production: It was in Italian, I have enough trouble figuring out English lyrics. Everything I know about the Italian language can be boiled down to watching Life is Beautiful a bunch of times.
Everyone was dressed the same. The two main guys had the same hair cut, were about the same size, and could have been twins.

So here is what happened in Simon Bocanegro: Sailors pulled some ropes, eventually one guy started singing loudly in bursts, there was some kind of confrontation between the twins guys, one of the guys draws a sword and they sing, the other dude bows down. Assumptions I am making at this point: One of these guys is named Simon. One of them is Placido Domingo. Some of this will start to make sense soon.
Then a body wrapped in a shroud gets dragged onto the stage, things are looking up. I might like Opera. This scene is never resolved in the first 45 minutes of the opera, which is apparently the attention span I have for an opera that I don’t understand. The guys sing about the dead person, I assume, I really don’t know if they were singing about the price of peas is Persia, and then the curtain closes. The crowd claps politely, and I wonder if now is a good time to leave my first opera.
The scene changes to some lady singing to another lady who NEVER sings. (Again, this is an observation based on the first 45 minutes of the opera.) I found the second, non-singing role to be confusing. It is an opera, shouldn’t everyone sing? My second thought was that maybe there is a chance for me to get into opera since I could sit there and not sing. Singing lady number one finished her little bursts of song, and  I assume that one of the guys from the first scene will show up and a love interest will be sprouted. Boy am I wrong, instead of one of the signing sailors some really fat guy appears and starts singing to the lady. Are they in love? Who is this guy? What is going on? This is 45 minutes into the Opera. I have done everything I can to give the impression that I am cultured: I sat with my legs crossed at the knees. I sat forward.  I put my hands on my crossed knees. I put my hand up to my chin…none of these physical attempts at body posturing worked, so instead of pretending to understand what was going on I took a moonlit walk in Vienna and tried to remember who Carlos Bocanegro was.

Let The Summer of Jon Begin: Top Ten


Top Ten things I am looking forward to during The Summer of Jon 



10. Eating three hotdogs each day while in Iceland at Bæjarins beztu pylsur.



English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the b...

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the best hot dog stand in Reykjavik.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. A full day at the Blue Lagoon. (Slippers and robe included.)



Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

8. Seeing Munch’s The Scream.



Munch The Scream lithography

Munch The Scream lithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Spending some time in the Danish Design Museum



English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Kl...

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Klint at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery



English: The "Elephant Gate" at the ...

English: The “Elephant Gate” at the Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5. Taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour.



Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm (Photo credit: TXMagpie)

4. Touring Potsdam on bike



Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineya...

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Walking though Vigeland Park (Froger Park) in Oslo.



Vigeland Children

Vigeland Children (Photo credit: Will Cyr)

2. Vienna’s outdoor evening concerts/movies at city hall.


Vienna's Town hall (4)

Vienna’s Town hall (4) (Photo credit: Elena Romera)

1. A full day bike tour of Prague.


English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed ...

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed from Petřín Lookout Tower. The view is approximately 180 degrees, from north on the left to south on the right.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Top Ten Concerns/Fears/Obsessive thoughts



10. The exchange rate. There is going to be some weird money on this trip. The Icelandic Kroner’s current exchange rate is about 125 to 1. This sounds good, but I don’t want to have to use skills from my Algebra 1 class in 1850.



9. Angry German bakers. I could avoid German bakers altogether but then I would have to avoid German baked goods…not gonna happen.



8. Being on time. I will show up to the airport three hours before my flight just like I am told, but once I am on the road I don’t want to spend time waiting.



7. Italians walking slowly.



6. Italians cutting in line. Okay this can be anyone cutting in line. Getting off the ferry in Victoria last week I purposely stepped in between a family that was cutting in line knowing that they couldn’t pass through customs as two groups. There is a line people! Get in the line or I will get all Clint Eastwoody on you. (Not the talking to a chair Clint Eastwood, but the Clint that stares into the sun and spits on stuff.)



5. Heat. I am a delicate flower and heat will make me wilt.



4. Not being able to speak the primary language of any country I am visiting. Yes, I am going to assume everyone will speak to me in English. My multiple years of Spanish class will probably not pay off in Iceland. Actually, my Spanish is only good for laughs these days.



3. Being stuck someplace where they play Techno music.



2. Being stuck on the plane next to someone who wants to talk too much.



1. Gypsies!










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