Whew…need to do a double today. I’ve learned that I scheduled time for everything I want to do while I’m here in Vienna…except sleep. There was just NO WAY I could write last night. So it figures that now I have twice as much time to cover and a quarter of the time to do it in…just got back to the Kaiserhof from the Mozart concert and Christa is off in 30 minutes. Let’s see how far I get.
Soooooo…yesterday, I was up with the chickens…5:15 am, after not getting to bed till about half past midnight. I had to make it all the way downtown by 7:00, and for the first time, was totally on my own in the public transport system. I allowed myself an hour, and it took 20 minutes…ha ha. Plenty of time for a STARBUCKS!! Though my Viennese friends are rolling their eyes at me, I’ve given in to my addiction and had about 5 cups of Bux in the past three or four days…can’t help it…little taste of home. The bus to Salzburg left without a hitch, and off we went across the countryside.
The tour was in English and Spanish…which means the guide said everything twice, first in English and then in Spanish, which was kinda cool because I could practice listening and understanding…a little. Sometimes he said the Spanish version first, and I was able to tell what he was talking about, even if not all the details, before he got to the English part. He had a great sense of humor…lots of jokes…and was very knowledgeable.
The Austrian countryside between Vienna and Salzburg looks very much like rural Virginia, which I loved. Very green…forest and farmland…with mountains in the distance. However, the mountains on the horizon here are craggier than our Blue Ridge, and once we got up into the little mountain towns on the lakes, it reminded me more of Donner Lake / the Tahoe area than Virginia…not really because it looked like Donner, but because the houses clustered on the lakesides seemed to give off the same atmosphere. We crossed over several crystal-clear streams that the guide said were used for drinking water…he said they’re too cold year round for swimming, but that they were like “glass.” They fed mountain lakes that he said were full of pike and carp and lots of other kinds of fish…said the fishing was great here. We drove through several little towns…the houses were stone on the lower level and dark wood A-shapes above…with windowboxes and balconies dripping with petunias and geraniums…very much like Spain. Every so often the trees would part and a church steeple would rise between them, but not like ours…they usually have onion-like bulges at the base that look almost Russian. (Have I mentioned how nice it is to be in a semi-Protestant nation?? It’s nice to see people building monuments and obsessing over their past royals instead of the Virgin Mary all the time!!)
The only chance we got to stop and get out and take some shots of the villages was when someone tried to use the WC on the coach and no one could find the key. I wish these tours that go through picturesque towns would stop more often to let us take pictures…bus shots are almost always crap…and no one seems to know that but me. I still try on occasion, because you never know, but for the most part, you’re just a victim of the bus driver…if he stops, he stops, and if he doesn’t, well, you’ll just have to come see this place for yourself. ;)
We got to Salzburg at around one…due to the winding country roads and the breakfast stop (truck stop with a GIANT buffet that had everything you could want…except Starbucks, ha ha). It’s a pretty town…not too big, not too small. By the time we got there, we’d heard plenty about The Sound of Music…which I’ve only seen once, and now must put on my Netflix cue. I thought we would go to Nonnberg Abbey, but we didn’t…and for the most part, though he pointed out this place or that place along the way, we didn’t actually GO to any of the sites. I take that back…we were in the Mirabelle gardens and he said the children did part of their Do Re Mi song on the steps behind us. (Early in the trip, by the way, we also passed by the Melk monastery, where Sean Connery and Christian Slater’s The Name of the Rose was filmed. I thought no one knew that movie but me.)
Anyway, our walking tour of Salzburg was only about an hour…long enough to acclimate us and give us an idea of what the city is like…then he turned us loose for about two hours or so to wander and explore. We saw Mozart’s two houses…his birthplace and his childhood home, but I didn’t go into either, except to buy gelato on the first floor of his birthplace…it was not good gelato. (Perhaps that’s what did him in. He should’ve been born in San Gimignano. Ha ha.) Doppler was also born here…the Doppler effect guy…and a few other folks I hadn’t heard of. We saw the biggest church in Central Europe (no definition of that) and a castle high on a hill, and learned about the barges that transported salt up the Salz(?) River. Mostly, we wandered the street markets and the shopping street, which had everything from cheap souvenirs to woodcarving, Christmas-themed shops to ski jackets to haute couture…oh yeah, and traditional dress…full on dirndles and lederhosen. =) The shops on the main thoroughfare still have ornate ironworks above their doors that show either what they sell or some trademark of the merchant. The whole street must be a real sight to see at Christmastime. I bought four little wooden Christmas tree ornaments (something I try to buy everywhere I travel) and a cute top I couldn’t resist…but I’ve really been very controlled in my spending the past few days…Christa says she’s starting to worry. ;)
And that’s pretty much what there is to tell about Salzburg. Didn’t have enough time to visit the castle on the mount or really “do” Salzburg, but it was pretty and I enjoyed it. When I got back to Vienna, I met Felix and his friends at a wine bar, and bless his heart, he was drinking Riesling and Moscato…my two favorite wines…without any input from me. Thank God, he agreed to take my iPod home and charge it for me…Lord knows what became of the cable Mom gave me…I say it never made it into the backpack at home. Several bottles of wine later, Christa joined us after work, and we were out till about 1am…and by the time we got home, I’d been up for 21 hours and had WAY too much wine to think about blogging.
And the alarm went off again at 8. Jeez.
I couldn’t do it. Rush around. Leave on time. Even CONSIDER running. (So there it is…Day 3 and I’ve already missed a training run…but it was only a 3…I’ll definitely do my 5 either tomorrow or Sunday, and that’s the best I think anyone can expect from me on a vacation…besides, if you’re going to mess up a week of marathon training, make it the first week, right?) I showered and shared a leisurely breakfast with Christa…semmele and Philly, coffee (without salt, thankyouverymuch), dozing in the sun as she pruned her petunia boxes…and then I was off…
…to see the Lipizzaners’ morning practice at the Spanish Riding School! I arrived an hour after they began a 2.5 hour practice…three groups of five…30 minutes each. No airs practice, just paces, but it was still wonderful to watch. They’re so graceful…most use double bridles…almost all of them are white…there was one that was mostly dapple-grey. All the riders are men, though they say that’s not a rule…apparently two young women have qualified to study there in the past few years. The riders were in uniform…brown tailcoats, tan breeches, high black boots and hats with curves on the sides like bison horns (that’s the only way I can think to describe them, ha ha). We lined the upper galleries and watched them weave and amble and prance and meander through the arena under crystal chandeliers and to the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Strauss. As they entered, one by one, they made a half circle near the head of the arena and the riders took off their caps to an imaginary royal audience. I also discovered that they store horse treats in the long tails of their riding coats. They carry crops but no one used them today…at one point, though, one rider dismounted and he and another guy tied long white longe lines to the horse’s bridle, one of them going over his neck, and put him through some “dance” paces while tapping his heels with a long crop…the horse didn’t seem to love this, but he apparently needed the extra work. I thought they were all beautiful.
After practice was over, I met Felix for lunch. We went to an Italian place called Vapiano, and if it ever gets to the States, OH MY GOD I’m going there every day. It’s basically Italian Subway. You order your pasta and they make your order specially right in front of you, in these wok-like pans, with olive oil and fresh garlic and onions and mozzarella and ricotta and marinara and FRESH pasta…and I got baby spinach, too…and they toss it all together and season it just how you like it and add hot pepper if you want it and let you have all the cheese you want (there go the angels singing again) and serve it up with bread and olive oil. IT WAS SO GOOD!!!! Aaaaaack! Every bit as decadent as Chipotle with none of the guilt. =)
When Felix went back to work for the afternoon, I headed back to the Opera to catch my tour to the Vienna Woods. When I was booking tours, this one was a last-minute choice…and if-you-have-time thing. It was GREAT, though. Covered the area south of Vienna…little suburban towns nestled in the woods. The tour was in four languages…German, English, Italian, and Spanish. Poor guy had to repeat everything four times over. And each language he spoke sounded totally flawless…and had we had any French onboard, he would’ve done that too. I found it harder to pay attention than yesterday, when there were only two languages.
The first place we went was Meyerling, where 30-something married Crown Prince Rudolf, son of Sisi and Franz Josef, committed suicide with his 17-year-old mistress (whom no one would speak of for years afterwards) rather than continue to bear the burden of being a royal who was destined for the throne of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. The mistress, Mary, was buried at the church, but 60 years afterwards, her coffin was dug up and ripped open (by a madman?) and she had to be reinterred. For the longest time, no one would acknowledge her existence, and they certainly didn’t acknowledge her role in Rudolf’s life or death. (Apparently, they were found in bed…he had shot her and then himself.) The church…I think…was a church already, but was remodeled, and the altar now stands upon the spot where he was found. Behind the church…much smaller inside than out…is a convent of Carmelite nuns who pray 8 hours a day and cloister themselves with vows of silence. No glimpse of them, unfortuantely. However, there are two giant black-and-white photos on either side of the altar…and I recognized the one of the woman as an adult (the other is her as a child)…and was startled to realize it was St. Therese of Lisieux…who features prominently in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which I just started reading! Strange coincidence. Apparently, Therese was never there in Meyerling, but is a central figure to the Carmelite nuns who live there.
Onward…to the Heiligenkreuz Cistercian Monastery…a huge complex of Benedictine monks, who sing Gregorian chants five times a day in ornately carved choir stalls in the main cathedral. They’re one of the outfits you find on CD from time to time. They dress in white…we met one who had taken his vows only yesterday after several years of being a novice. Most of the monastery is from the 12th century, and we got to see lots of places like the living quarters and such, prior to post-war rennovations which led to new parts of the complex where the monks now live. Apparently they rise at 5:15 am for their first chant session, and then before and after lunch and before and after dinner. Their cloister walk was beautiful and had two large wood carvings in two of the corners…one of Mary washing Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. In an anteroom off the cloister, there is a fountain built upon a natural spring, so the whole walk is silent except for the sounds of bubbling water…very nice. Would have liked to spend some time there alone…away from the tour group. Sigh.
Then we went to a Seegrotte…a man-made grotto (underground lake) that connects to a mine. I don’t remember the name of the thing they mined for, and Google is turning everything up in German and I can’t be bothered to look it up. But we went deep into the mountain through the mine tunnel…about 500m in, I think. The guide did a great job explaining everything in German and in English. One of the saddest things we learned was that at the end of the 19th century, the miners used blinded horses to do the minework…as in, they blinded the horses they needed and then kept them in the mines, some for their entire lives…and the reason for it was to keep the horses calm in the underground environment. Broke my heart to imagine that. The cave was 9C throughout…which works out to about 48F…very chilly, and I found it interesting that it was at least 15 degrees colder than the natural caverns I used to guide for in college back in VA. Didn’t ask why. Also learned that the movie The Three Musketeers filmed in this cavern back in 1993…a boat and many of the props were still on display. When we reached the underground lake, we got on a boat and tooled around it a bit, through archways and lighted tunnels…the water was only about 4′ deep and full of calcium at the bottom…but crystal clear and reflecting the lights in beautiful ways. There were several altars to St. Barbara, who is apparently the patron saint of miners. Also a memorial to the POWs and concentration camp victims who were forced to work here in the war…the Nazis built plane fuselages down here.
Last stop on the tour was the castle of the family Lichtenstein…of the teeny tiny country Lichtenstien. We didn’t stop, just did a drive-by…which was a bummer. Not even a chance for a picture of the castle high on a hill, except from the bus window. Bus pictures. Ugh.
And that was it…back to Vienna. Very enjoyable tour…nice to get out of the city and see things you wouldn’t otherwise see.
I headed straight to the Kaiserhof to see Christa when I got back…I had about an hour till the Mozart Concert started at the Golden Hall in the Musikverein (where the New Year’s Eve concert is held every year). Christa had brought clothes for me to change into…a skirt I bought in Florence and a top I bought in Salzburg…and my trekking sandals, ha ha. I was ALMOST stylish…but NOT. As usual. So I changed, wandered over by a really fancy cathedral on the way to the concert hall, and went to find my COMPLIMENTARY seat…otherwise would’ve been 65 E…thanks to Christa!! Not a terrific seat, but who cares? It’s music!
And it was wonderful…the whole orchestra (about 20 people) was dressed in white wigs and period concerts…jackets of all different colors – red, purple, green, blue, gold – with white ruffles and black bows at their necks…and they played a few opera tunes (with AMAZING opera singers, male and female) and a few songs most of us Americans only know from Bugs Bunny cartoons. =) For one song, the conductor turned around to “conduct” the audience in clapping along, and when half of us kept going after he cut us off, he glared at us and after several instances, stomped off the stage with his head thrown back and his hand over his eyes…classic fed-up concierto diva move. Really fun. And of course the concert hall itself was over-the-top ornate…gilt everwhere, paintings on the ceilings, crystal chandeliers…very, very enjoyable night of music. (Even two French horns…yay!)
And that was my day. Turkish pizza on the way back to the hotel to pick Christa up…blogging…and now it’s time for bed, because I’m up again in 7 hours to take my tour of the Danube River!! Apricot liqueur, here I come!! Now, how much can I smuggle back in my backpack?? =)
My GOD I’m going to sleep for three whole day when I get home…I don’t think I’ve gotten a full 8 hours ONCE on this trip. Thank God Sunday has nothing planned except the tour of the Spanish Riding School…only one hour…moved it to 3pm instead of 10am. Dinner with Felix at that FABULOUS Italian place again…and packing.
What’s currently got me groaning…Christa’s friends have all been out of town on holiday…and she’s been working since the day after I got here, every evening…well, they’re all back on Monday…and she’s finally off on Monday…and they want to have a barbecue here on Monday…
…and I fly home Monday morning.
DYING to change my ticket one day later. But doubt I can. Sigh. Such is life. She’ll just have to come to the States to visit me…right? =)