Sunday, January 13, 2013


     On Christmas Eve I flew to Vienna and thus began a week long vacation. Originally, Katie was supposed to go too, but she was stuck in the U.S. waiting on her Spanish visa (more on that later). I arrived in the evening and the next morning I went to the Belvedere museum and saw an amazing exhibit on Gustav Klimt, a unique early 20th century painter, whose famous works include Judith I and The Kiss. Some people think he's kitschy, but I like him a lot. For me, his art evokes a level of feeling that few other artists accomplish. He isn't one of those artists who I 'appreciate' but don't really care for; he is one whose art I look at to provoke feeling and inspiration.
     That night I went to the famous Vienna State Opera house to see The Nutcracker. I have to admit, I have never enjoyed this ballet. But I had heard that you could buy cheap standing room tickets and that the performances were some of the best in the world. So I waited to buy a ticket, a grand total of 3 euro, and watched the ballet comfortably from the 4th deck.

(The State Opera house)

I was really impressed with the performance— dare I say I enjoyed it? Yes, I enjoyed The Nutcracker. I suppose until then I had only seen it put on by 12 year olds or on small television screens. Everything, from the orchestra, to the dancing, to the set changes, was impeccable.

     The next morning I went to Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg's summer home only a few kilometers from the city center. It was impressive in stature, to say the least. Built in the 17th century, it not only housed the Habsburgs but later, for a few years in the early 1800s, Napoleon lived there. At the gates, two pillars topped with golden eagles remain from his time there.

(The front of the palace)

(Inside the palace— the room where Kennedy and Khrushchev met in 1961)

(The back of the palace)

     Next, I went to Freud's house of 47 years. It has been turned into a museum, and is devoid of almost all original possessions, thanks to his having to flee Austria at the start of WWII. There is one room that still has some original furniture and things, but things are mostly left to one's imagination. 
     Later I went to St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna's most famous cathedral, located in the center of town. Begun in the 1100s and not finished for centuries, it represents different architectural periods, and inside are multi-colored lights that shine on the pillars and make for nice pictures. 

(Interior of St. Stephen's)

     Vienna is famous for its elaborate coffeehouses, and the most famous one is Café Central. It boasts a large list of famous historical clientele, including Freud and Leon Trotsky. 

I don't think a local has been in there in twenty years. The place is aesthetically pleasing, the food is okay, and the atmosphere is nonexistent. 

     In search of some real culture, I went back to the opera house to see Richard Strauss' opera, Ariadne auf Naxos. Thankfully, there were little screens in the standing room section that had English subtitles of the German operatic singing. Knowing what was being said and sung made the opera almost enjoyable. I really don't know how people listen to operas without knowing what is being sung. The singer can be singing the saddest sounding song, yet the words are hilarious or nonsensical [at least in this opera, where the plot had to do with putting on an opera (high art) and a comedic play (low art) simultaneously]. Anyways, not my cup of tea but I certainly can appreciate the talent it takes to sing opera. 

(The State Opera house)

The next morning I went to the Central Cemetery (not centrally located), an enormous cemetery which includes residents such as Beethoven, Brahms, the Strauss family, and famous atonal composer Arnold Schönberg. I think listening to their music is probably a better way to pay homage to them than visiting their graves, but you don't have the opportunity every day...

     Back in town, I went to the Secession building, home to the famous Vienna art movement of the same name, which began in 1897 and in which Klimt played a major role. The movement's credo, which is displayed on the building itself, is "To every age its art. To art, its freedom." 

(The Secession Building)

     Of the many art exhibitions that were held and are still held in the building, the one dedicated to Beethoven was the most famous. Held in 1902, it included a frieze painted by Klimt, which was intended to be only a temporary work of art but which was saved and is now on display in the museum today. According to the pamphlet I picked up, "The frieze takes its theme from Richard Wagner's interpretation of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and depicts humankind's search for happiness." It is a wonderful, diverse work of art and I was lucky enough to catch the exhibition which let observers climb stairs to be at eye level with the frieze, which is displayed high above the ground. The frieze covers four walls, but the most famous image is titled "The Kiss To The Whole World." 
     That evening I tackled the Kunsthistorisches Museum, an enormous museum, the main attraction being the picture gallery but also home to significant Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts. The museum is famous for its collection of Bruegel paintings, the largest in the world. It has many of his famous paintings (such as The Tower of Babel and The Peasant Wedding), although I favor the few that the Prado has here in Madrid. One thing I liked about the museum is that there were several instances of artists painting side by side the paintings. 

(The Hunters in the Snow, Bruegel 1565)

Another nice touch was that all of the paintings had good descriptions below to explain the historical and artistic context of the paintings. It is enjoyable to learn history through paintings, and the aid of a few sentences helps one appreciate the more mundane royal portraits of queens, kings, dukes, duchesses, palaces, and such. Though as everyone knows, spending hours and hours looking at paintings and reading descriptions is tiring, and after a while one becomes somewhat desensitized. Museums like the Kunsthistorisches need repeated visits with fresh eyes to fully appreciate the enormity and significance of the collection. I did my best, however, and took a few needed breaks in the four or five hours I was there to sit on the nice couches they have in the large rooms. 
     Vienna was a nice city, although I found it quite expensive, with pitifully small student discounts to the popular attractions and a certain stale air of living in the past. I didn't get a good meal while I was there, but the Opera house and the art museums were definitely worthwhile. 
     Stay tuned for posts on Budapest and Prague coming soon. 


  1. Very well written review!! You could be the next Rick Steves!! haha - I know what you think of him..

  2. I teach this painting but have never seen it in person. What good fortune!