Thursday, July 18, 2013

Weekly Interlude 7: Oh, the Places You'll Go

I could really get used to having every week off in Vienna. While I was so exhausted on Sunday that it was all I could do to turn off my laptop and get out of the apartment, every other day this week has been jam-packed with exciting adventures. I thought I should go for a bi-Weekly Interlude post this time because I'm heading off to Salzburg tomorrow and don't want to skimp on all the fun I've had this week.
(L to R) Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert

Monday: I actually practiced! And while this may not sound very exciting to some, it really is a big deal. The same way athletes need to stay in shape, so do singers. I started learning a new aria ("What will it be for me?" from Marc Blitzstein's Regina) and played around with some more Irving Berlin tunes. (If you'd like a Musical Interlude, check out Frank Sinatra singing a small Berlin medley here!) Then, in the afternoon, I headed over to the Westbahnhof and walked down the entire length of Mariahilferstraße, a major shopping thoroughfare in the 6th district. I bought a new backpack -- one that doesn't weigh 50 pounds empty -- which I'll officially test out tomorrow in Salzburg :)
Hugo Wolf

Things didn't start to get really exciting until Tuesday. I woke up early (thanks to the pesky sunlight peering in around the curtains) and, after practicing again (!), went to the Zentralfriedhof, or central cemetery. Sounds morbid? It wasn't! The sun was shining, I successfully navigated the S-Bahn, and, oh yes, I found the graves of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Gluck, and Strauss. All the musicians are buried in the same area, with Mozart's tomb-statue placed right at the entrance.

Instead of walking all the way back to the other end of the cemetery (which is HUGE) to the S-Bahn, I went out a closer exit, hopped on a Strassenbahn (street car/tram/trolley), and rode about 20 stops back to Mariahilferstraße via the 10th and 11th districts. It was fascinating to see a part of Vienna I rarely travel to; the vibe feels a bit more modern, and the population tends to be more ethnically diverse the farther away you get from the first district.

Biking along the Danube
Tuesday afternoon, I borrowed my friend's bike and rode it from the 6th district (west of the center) and over to the Danube Island (northeast of the center). And may I just say: give me the U-Bahn any day! I'm possibly the worst, most nervous city-biker you've ever seen. Forget that Vienna has bike lanes (for the most part; they occasionally disappear and reappear three blocks later) -- I just get so anxious when I have to start and stop for lights or -- GOD FORBID -- make a left-hand turn. And what is it with the bike lanes disappearing anyway? It's very stressful to figure out how to cross four lanes of trolley tracks while also hunting down the magically-shifting path. And I was this stressed with a helmet on; how can people be so content to zip around me and dodge traffic without a helmet?!
Danube path

So you can imagine my relief when I made it to the Danube Island. Let me tell you, it's made for people who like calmer sport activities: roller-blading, jogging, swimming, biking, walking. The island is mostly flat, so you can pedal on and on until your heart's content. The water glistens, the buildings on either side of the Danube shine, people walk their dogs or sunbathe as you pedal on by, under the bridges and along tree-lined paths. It was so relaxing; I was out for a couple of hours. (Small warning: it's very scary to pedal under a bridge as an S-Bahn screams by overhead.)

And then Tuesday evening, it occurs to me to plan a day trip for tomorrow. Where to? Yes, that's right: on Wednesday, I went to Bratislava, Solvakia! I even have the magnet to prove it.

St. Martin's Cathedral
Streets of Bratislava
Bratislava and Vienna are the two closest capitals in Europe, only a mere 37.3 miles apart. A bus runs between the cities 13 times a day, so I bought a ticket at the station (round trip was only 12 euros!) and left in the morning. I spent the bus ride reading the Rick Steves' travel guide I found in my apartment, which included a suggested walking tour of the city, as well as some historical information. It turns out that communism pretty much destroyed the Slovakian economy, but in the last 10 years, the country has started to rehabilitate. In Bratislava, they've replaced cobblestones, repaired damaged buildings, and even begun a twin-city commerce partnership with Vienna. I found the city very charming, like a cross between Prague and Budapest or like a very small Berlin (in terms of the old and new standing side-by-side). I was only there for about four hours, but it was enough time to get a feel for the city.

"The Peeper" - a whimsical statue
"Kilometer Zero" Plaque
I spent most of the time exploring Old Town, from St. Martin's Cathedral near the bus station to St. Michael's gate at the northern end. A highway runs directly in front of St. Martin's, thanks to the Soviets; therefore, one side of the church is loud and hurried, while the backside is quiet and tranquil. Next, I hit Hviezdoslav Square (named for a Slovak poet) and saw the Slovak National Theater. In the Main Square, there are several "whimsical statues" (as Rick Steves puts it), as well as the Old Town Hall, French Embassy, Kaffee Mayer -- all outlining a huge courtyard. This then opens up to Michael's Street, which is lined with cafes and restaurants, artisan shops and art galleries. At St. Michael's Gate, I found the "kilometer zero" plaque on the ground, the point from which distances in Slovakia are measured, apparently. (I was able to fit New York and Wien into the same picture. Perhaps we're not so far away from each other after all...)

Schöner Náci
Main Square
I couldn't find the statue of the Napoleon soldier rumored to be in the Main Square in front of the French Embassy, so they must have removed him in the last four years (my guidebook was from 2009); nor could I find the chocolate shop on Michael's Street. I DID find, however, one of the many cannonballs lodged into various buildings around the city. They're reminders of Napoleon's two sieges of Bratislava, which apparently caused more devastation to the city than during World War II. I also stumbled across a souvenir/artisan outdoor market at one end of the Main Square.
Bratislava Castle

View from the Castle
For lunch, I plunked down at an outdoor cafe on Michael's Street and ordered Bryndzové halusky s grilovanou klobáskou (gnocchi in sheep cheese with grilled sausage). It's really close to the national dish, which apparently uses bacon instead of sausage. It was DELICIOUS, although very heavy for such a hot day.

Lastly, I rounded off the trip with a hike up to the Castle. I shlepped up the cobblestone hills and climbed all sorts of crazy stairs, but the view at the top was totally worth it. Plus, it brought me right back to the bus station; couldn't have planned the route better if I'd tried! And now I can say I've been to five out of the eight countries bordering Austria :)

View from the Castle
So tomorrow morning I head off to Salzburg. The famous Salzburger Festspiele begins tomorrow, but tickets were sold out ages ago. I'm going to try and find a public, open-air showing, or maybe I'll just loiter outside ticket stands. We'll see. Either way, I have less than 12 hours to buy train snacks, finish packing, and charge my camera.

I'll leave you with a fun fact for the day. I stumbled upon this while reading a Vienna/Salzburg guide book. Apparently, the Vienna State Opera House is the site of the world's longest round of applause: "For 90 minutes and 101 curtain calls, an Austrian crowd applauded Plácido Domingo for his performance in Othello in 1991" (Fodor's Vienna to Salzburg). Cool!

Field of sunflowers :)

No comments:

Post a Comment