Museum Quarter and the Opera

This was our last day in Vienna so we decided to take it at a more leisurely pace. Our first stop was the Museum Quarter so that we could visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Art History Museum.

IMG_2090  IMG_2087  IMG_2092IMG_2094  IMG_2096  IMG_2095If you look closely at the middle picture in the second row you can JUST make out a bit of artwork above the arches. That was done by Gustav Klimt.

My Dad particularly wanted to see a Velásquez exhibit that was on, and Velásquez is one of the few artists that I vaguely remember from my AP Art History class. Sure enough, I recognized some of his more popular works such as Venus at Her Toilet and Las Meninas. To be honest I’d always thought Las Meninas was a rather blah painting so I was interested to see if I found it boring in person. To my great surprise I really liked it…until I saw that it was actually a copy of the one in the Prado.

Anyways, I still managed to remember enough art history to point out to my Dad that the entire painting is a rather large self-portrait. Velasquez is the rather shadowy painter off to the left of the painting and the canvas in the picture is supposed to represent the painting Las Meninas. So it’s a painting of Velásquez painting the painting. Trippy right?

As for Venus at Her Toilet, the only thing I could remember was that it’s clearly connected to an old and rich history of similar paintings (which at one point long ago I could recall at the drop of a hat). That and the fact that Venus isn’t looking at herself in the mirror. She’s looking at the audience. At the time, this indirect gaze was significant since it represented a shift in these types of classic paintings. And that’s about all my brain managed to dredge up from the depths of my rather shaky art history memory.

meninas  velazquez-toilet-venus-rokeby-venus-NG2057-fmAfter seeing the Velásquez exhibit we walked around the rest of the museum. The top floor mostly contained paintings while the ground level was devoted to a variety of things. My Dad and I liked looking at some of the old clockwork that was on display, particularly because a lot of the clocks were automatons, but we also had a good time wandering around the Egyptian and Roman artifacts.

IMG_2106  IMG_2112  IMG_2108After that it was time for a coffee break. Café culture is huge in Vienna and there are a plethora of well known cafés scattered throughout the city. I decided that it would be fun to visit Café Central. Not only does the café have beautiful vaulted ceilings, it also used to be a favorite haunt of people like Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud, Peter Altenberg and Leo Trotzki. This meant that my Dad and I were able to sip our coffee and feel somewhat like intellectuals.

IMG_2115  IMG_2117  IMG_2120Once we finished eating, we made our way to Hofburg Palace. Schönbrunn was not always a popular palace and was only regularly attended as a summer palace starting in the 18th century. In contrast to this, Hofburg was used as a residence for over 600 years and was therefore the center of the Holy Roman Empire. It also served as the winter palace for the Habsburgs. To be honest, the information presented in the Hofburg was pretty similar to that in Schönbrunn. That’s not to say the Hofburg wasn’t impressive, but I would say that it’s slightly less impressive than Schönbrunn (but maybe that’s just because I saw Schönbrunn first).

The thing that the Hofburg did have that Schönbrunn didn’t was the Imperial Silver Collection and a current exhibit focused on demystifying Empress Sisi. The overall sense that I got of Sisi was that she was a very unhappy woman who wasn’t particularly attached to her husband (who in contrast was absolutely devoted to her). She’s also well known for being particularly attached to her Bavarian family and for being obsessed with maintaining her beauty. So, while the Sisi exhibit was a bit grim, I would say that overall the Hofburg is worth a visit.

Afterwards we cleaned up for the opera and then headed out for a quick dinner before Rigoletto.

IMG_2132

Unfortunately, Rigoletto is a truly depressing opera. It can be summed up by saying that pretty much everyone dies or is unhappy, while the culprit, the Duke, manages to get away scot-free. I was actually pretty surprised at the lack of a good Christian moral, though I suppose “revenge is never worthwhile” might suffice. The opera is originally based off a play by Victor Hugo (who also wrote Les Misérables) so I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the opera is decidedly sad. That being said, my Dad and I didn’t have any of this background knowledge when we bought the tickets. We mostly just knew it as a famous opera.

As for the opera itself, it ended up being great. The quality of the singing more than made up for the depressing plot. We even managed to enjoy ourselves despite the fact that we could only see about 50 percent of the stage.

Funnily enough, one of the opera’s most famous songs is one that I remembered from Disney’s Aristocats. If you watch the beginning of the Disney video you can see that George, the old lawyer, hums the tune “La donna è mobile” during the first 15 seconds of the video. I guess back in the day Disney was teaching me opera without me knowing it.

Don’t worry, I don’t think our Duke had eyes quite as crazy as Pavarotti’s.

One really great thing about the Vienna Opera is that they offer very cheap standing room tickets (we saw people queuing for them a good two hours ahead of time) and they also project the live performances on a screen outside of the building.

Once the opera had finished, we went to the Sacher Hotel for some of their famous Sacher torte. Now the Sacher Hotel is a fairly swanky place, to the extent that a man helped me out of my coat at coatcheck (he ignored me when I said I could do it myself–I felt a bit like Matthew Crawley in his early days at Downton Abbey).

Fun fact: although the Sacher torte is a renown Viennese dessert, it was an accident. Apparently the court chef fell ill the day a lot of high ranking guests were scheduled to arrive at court, leaving the apprentice chef, Franz Sacher, to come up with a dessert. Clearly he passed with flying colors. Now the Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel is made from what is essentially a secret recipe. The recipe itself apparently requires 36 steps and exclusive wooden boxes. While this sounds like an excessive amount of effort to spend on a slice of cake, I will admit that it was pretty delicious.

IMG_2136  IMG_2137 IMG_2139

Thoroughly stuffed, my Dad and I gathered our coats (this time I let the man at coatcheck help me with my coat) and we walked back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Christmas

Funnily enough, more things were open on Christmas than on Christmas Eve, and most of them were open for longer. My Dad and I were pretty content to just call our trip our Christmas present, but our hotel had graciously given us holiday slippers and sweets the night before. So, after testing out the slippers and eating a few of the sweets we prepared to begin our Christmas adventures.

The first thing we went to was Schwedenplatz so that we could board a Ring Tram Tour. The Ring refers to the road called Ringstraße, which also happens to be where Vienna’s city walls were. The tour mostly consisted of riding a yellow tram around the Ring and listening to an audioguide point out notable sights along the way. All in all the tour took about 25 minutes. While the tour wasn’t particularly exciting, I still found it worthwhile since it pointed out some of the major sights in the city, taught us a little bit of history, and helped orient me.

IMG_6993  IMG_6982  IMG_6987After the tour finished, we made our way to the Belvedere museums. The Belvedere property contains the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, the Winter Palace, and the grounds. Unfortunately it was raining, so my Dad and I decided against exploring the grounds and immediately made a beeline for the Upper Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere is famous for having a large number of Klimt paintings, most notably The Kiss, but it also contains other well known pieces such as Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. I’m a Klimt fan so I enjoyed seeing his artwork, but I didn’t find much else in the Upper Belvedere particularly exciting.

I will also say that the Belvedere has particularly confusing photography standards. Some rooms you could photograph, others you couldn’t, some statues you could photograph, others you couldn’t, etc. Because I’m a shutterbug I was alternately yelled at and encouraged a number of times.

IMG_7025  IMG_7023  IMG_7026IMG_7046  IMG_7036  IMG_7052My Dad and I hadn’t originally planned on going to the Lower Belvedere since it mostly speicalizes in modern art, but a sign caught our eyes saying that the Lower Belvedere currently had a Monet exhibit. My Dad and I happen to be big Monet fans so we made our way over to the Lower Belvedere to upgrade our tickets. To our surprise, we ended up liking the Lower Belvedere much more than the Upper Belvedere. The Monet exhibit was fantastic and featured a large number of his paintings. The rest of the Lower Belvedere was interesting, but the Monet was what made the entire Belvedere trip really worthwhile.

IMG_7056  IMG_7062  IMG_7065Once we had finished with the Belvedere, we made our way towards Schloß Schönbrunn, or Schönbrunn Palace. My Dad and I initially had some difficulties remembering the name Schönbrunn and so my Dad decided to dub it “Sunnybun.” The palace lies just outside the center of Vienna so we had to take the subway to get there, but it was well worth the trip. Because we were going later in the day we only had time to do a tour around the palace. The guide that we were provided with turned out to be an audioguide, and while I’m generally not a fan of audioguides, this one wasn’t actually too bad. Some of the audioguide numbers were a bit outdated, but overall it was a pleasant experience.

Schönbrunn was originally commissioned in the 17th century to serve as a hunting lodge, but under Empress Maria Theresa it became the focus of court life. Since then it has hosted a number of momentous events and notable people. Some of the rooms that we saw featured great historical events, but the majority of the rooms were the private rooms of the Habsburg family. In retrospect, Schönbrunn was one of my favorite sights.

After we were done with the tour, we wandered around the grounds and paid a visit to the Christmas market.

IMG_7120  IMG_7092  IMG_7093IMG_7099  IMG_7108  IMG_7116IMG_7121  IMG_7140  IMG_7131Once we finished, we went back to our hotel before coming back again for the Christmas concert. The concert primarily featured two of Austria’s golden boys, Mozart and Strauss. The music was great and to top it all off there was also some opera and ballet mixed in. So, in honor of the concert I leave you with Austria’s unofficial national anthem, Blue Danube.

Vienna At Last

We finally make it to Vienna at around 2 pm. Because most things were closed by around 5 or 6, we really didn’t have too much time to explore the city on our first day. But, we managed to make it to two major sights that day. Our first stop was Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church. Karlskirche is one of Vienna’s best baroque churches and also happened to be close to our hotel. So, we duly walked the three or so blocks to the church and were almost immediately accosted by a man trying to sell us concert tickets.Vienna is known as the City of Music so this wasn’t much of a surprise. Alix had also warned me that there would be plenty of people trying to sell us tickets.

My Dad and I had contemplated buying concert tickets before our trip, but in the end we decided to just wait and organize something once we were in the city. So, while we were surprised to see someone selling tickets outside of Karlskirche we decided to listen to his sales pitch. He ended up doing quite well and managed to sell us two discounted tickets to a Christmas concert at Schloss Schönbrunn.

After that we entered Karlskirche. Karlskirche was built from 1716 – 1739 in order to give thanks for the city making it through the 1713 plague. Both the exterior and the interior are remarkable, but the best part about the church is being able to take an elevator up to the top of the church where you can view the basilica’s frescos up close.

IMG_6547  IMG_6549  IMG_6554 IMG_6559  IMG_6592  IMG_6588As someone who is somewhat scared of heights, I found the wooden viewing platform above the church a bit too rickety for my taste, but it was still fabulous to have the opportunity to go up and see everything up close. My favorite part was one particularly well known fresco that features an angel burning Martin Luther’s German Bible. It was funny seeing the Catholic Church’s small ways of thumbing their noses at the Protestants.

IMG_6577  IMG_6578  IMG_6585After that we made our way to the Secession Museum. The Secession Museum was built and designed by the Vienna Secession art movement, which included star artists such as Klimt, Josef Hoffman, Kolo Moser, and Joseph M Olbrich. Unfortunately, it seems like the museum is only really well known for displaying Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, a work inspired by Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Although the museum staff couldn’t have hurried us to the exhibit any faster, once we were there we weren’t allowed to take any pictures (the one below is a replica of a section of the mural), but then again that’s where Google comes in handy. The mural spans three sides of the room and according to the brochure depicts mankind’s search for happiness. The mural can be summarized by saying that it starts with mankind enlisting a knight in shining armor for help. This knight then fights off “Hostile Forces” such as Sickness, Madness, and Death, but eventually succeeds and finds fulfillment in poetry and the arts. The painting concludes with a kissing couple which, again according to the brochure, is based on the lyrics to “Ode to Joy” which contain the line “This kiss to the whole world.” I personally really enjoyed the Beethoven Frieze, although it isn’t placed at eye level which makes it slightly more difficult to view.

Afterwards, we took pity on the rest of the museum (which seems a bit neglected considering how quickly the museum staff ushered us into the room containing the Beethoven Frieze). We saw works from about three or four current artists, but the one that I enjoyed the most was a piece by Renata Lucas which involved a record player. The record player was attached to a revolving door so in order to get the record to play you had to keep spinning the door.

IMG_6602  IMG_6601  IMG_6605Once we had finished at the Secession Museum we felt like it was time for dinner. I happen to have a friend living in Vienna and she highly recommended trying out a restaurant called Plachutta. So it was with food on our minds that my Dad and I duly set off in search of this restaurant. Lucky for us we were able to get a table and I ordered their most famous dish, tafelspitz. Little did I know what I was getting into. My dish included a type of vegetable soup, boiled beef, beef marrow (which was supposed to be spread on bread), creamed pumpkin, potatoes, horseradish applesauce, and a chive sauce. It was a meal big enough for two and it was superb. I have to say that Plachutta absolutely ruined any other tafelspitz that I had for the rest of the trip. It really was just that good.

IMG_2034So, it was with very full stomachs that my Dad and I concluded our first day in Vienna. We did pay a quick stop to Naschmarkt food market just to look around, but after that we called it a night.