Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Weekly Interlude 33: Winding Down

The Life Ball on Rathausplatz
Well folks, the Great Vienna Adventure is winding down. Two weeks and one day, and I'll be on an airplane heading back to the US of A, right in time for the 4th of July (I expect copious culture shock will be in order). Meanwhile, my classes at Musical Munchkins are finishing up week-by-week, some earlier than others because some days had more holidays than others. I said goodbye to my Wednesday and Friday classes last week, which was much sadder than I expected. BUT: I am determined to maximize my time left in Austria! I'd say I'm doing a pretty good job--keep reading for details.
Dancing at the Life Ball

The Life Ball opening dance
Every year, Vienna hosts the Life Ball, which is a huge charity event raising money for and awareness of people with HIV/AIDS. It was held on the Rathausplatz in front of the city hall, and it was like no ball I'd ever seen before. Nothing tame, nothing regal. Instead there was a red carpet and wild costumes and famous people making speeches--Bill Clinton, for one--as well as musical performances by Ricky Martin, Christina Perry, an American Idol winner I hadn't heard of, and, most importantly to Vienna, CONCHITA! Just to name a few. Then there was a fashion show comprised of dancing and costumes and confident swaggering up and down the red carpet. The entire affair was a celebration of diversity; the fashion show featured clothing from all different parts of the world.

Conchita Wurst
The fashion show at Life Ball
At the end of the Life Ball, Conchita Wurst performed. Wurst was the first Austrian to win the Eurovision Song Contest since 1966, performing "Rise Like a Phoenix," and, while beloved by fans all over the world, caused some controversy with her victory. The singer, named Thomas Neuwirth, identifies as a gay man, but his drag stage persona Conchita Wurst identifies as a "she." Austria loves Conchita, though, and the bearded woman has been featured on the cover of magazines and advertisements these past few months.

At the Schönbrunn Nachtkonzert
Susanna and me at Schönbrunn!
The next Big Vienna Event after the Life Ball was the Schönbrunn concert. Here, the Vienna Philharmonic played an outdoor concert at Schönbrunn Palace under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach, featuring piano soloist Lang Lang. For those of you who don't know, this is a BIG DEAL. As at the Life Ball, I couldn't see anything and had to settle for watching the amazing musicians on a big screen set up to the side. Though it had rained earlier in the day, the evening was cool and clear, and my friend and I enjoyed listening to the music for two hours.

Old City, Innsbruck
The colorful Old City, Innsbruck
What else? Oh yes, I went to Innsbruck and hiked a mountain. Innsbruck is the capital of Tirol, a region in western Austria. The city is nestled comfortably at the feet of the Alps; the mountains rise starkly on three sides, creating a deep basin through which the Inn River runs. While the mountains are beautiful, it actually took me a little while to get used to the them. I felt a little claustrophobic at first. I was out in Innsbruck with Jennifer (who is performing there at the Landestheater) and Lillian. We lucked out with gorgeous weather--clear blue skies, heat, a light breeze--utterly unheard of in such a mountainous region. For four days the weather held like this, and I had time to hike. After taking an Eisenbahn (like a furnicular or little train) up to Hungerburg, I hiked from Hungerburg up the side of the mountain to Seegrube.
A rare shady portion of the hike

You can't tell, but this was STEEP
This was no easy hike. Considering my uncanny ability to accidentally invent my own way up the mountain, it's a wonder I managed to reach my destination at all. Note: when you're hiking and come across two different paths, choose the one with people on it and a clear, graveled route. Don't take the one that looks shorter but is abandoned and marked by uneven tufts of grass, muddy tire tracks, and big rocks. Even if it looks shorter, it will take longer. And that is how I ended up climbing almost vertically up the side of the mountain, cursing the people whisked over my head in the cable car.
Improvising my own path
Looking back along the hike

Another note: if you're climbing UP a mountain, never take a path that looks like it's going DOWN. Chances are, it will NOT wind back around and start heading up again. Don't even ask me how I wasted 15 minutes walking in the wrong direction up a mountain.

Walking for just under 3 hours in 80% glaring sunshine, I finally made it to Seegrube, bursting with endorphins. Immediately pulling out my journal, I wrote this about the view:

The Alps across from Seegrube
Looking down at Innsbruck
"...The snow-capped peaks across the valley are majestic, especially where the light hits. The air looks different up here--hazy, misty somehow. It's truly wondrous...I'm sitting on an outcropping of grass that banks steeply down to the city below. A raven--or maybe a crow?--flew by me, its black feathers sleek in the sunlight...Dirt paths snake around and down the mountain face. I can see colorful buildings hugging the banks of the long, narrow Inn River. The water is the same color of the Statue of Liberty, an opaque, murky green. The air is cool, and a friendly breeze blows insistently. Across the valley, green trees carpet the mountains, giving way to brown and snowy peaks...Innsbruck is Graz meets Salzburg with a splash of Italy thrown in the mix..."
The view from Seegrube

The Alps, bordering northern Italy
Sitting on Seegrube, I experienced one of those moments where I just wanted to share it with somebody. A camera (or at least my camera) can't truly capture the essence of the view, the wonder of seeing the bridge that leads across to the Alps and Italy, of seeing the immense mountains across the valley and feeling as if you are closer to them than to the people on the ground. We live in a magnificent world. I hope my pictures here do at least a bit of justice to the wonder I felt in standing at the top.

Shaky-legged but successful!
I hiked that!
These last two weeks in Vienna feel suddenly like a race against the clock. I plan to go inside Schönbrunn Palace (I never have!), visit the Leopold Museum, go café-hopping, buy souvenirs/birthday presents for family and friends (and myself?), take long walks along the Danube, visit the 16th district and the Vienna Woods, and...I don't know. There's so much to do, so much I've already done. It's not surprising to me in the least that I feel closest to Vienna now that I'm destined to leave it.

People here keep asking me if I'll come back, and I am 110% positive that I'll come back to visit, at least. But there's a pull to America that I cannot ignore, so all I can say is, we'll see.

A quiet afternoon along the Danube