Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Wien, Osterreich

Guten tag! (goot-an tuck) 

Hello! We are in Vienna, Austria (the title of the blogpost is read Veen, Oh-stir-rye-h). From the airport we take the train. There are no turnstiles here, no blocking of the flux of people coming or going, just  two boxes where you are supposed to validate your ticket as you enter the station. It is your responsibility. The train is wide and has doors that don’t open automatically (this makes for a quieter ride). Mihai is concerned if we are going to figure how to open them, but it’s quite simple, just pull the handle. 

In the station we are welcomed by Alina, our cousin. She lives here with her 9 years old son, Victor. Though we know stories about him, it is our first time that we meet him (only Mihai met him years ago). Both sides are curious. 10:30 pm. He says hello, and after getting a good picture of our faces, he goes directly to bed. At 6:30 am he wakes up to go to school. We stay late and eat and talk and eat some more, in a true Romanian style. 

This is the next night, we have duck, dumplings and red cabbage!

Our first day in Vienna we take it slowly. After a brunch, the adults and Ileana go for a stroll, leaving the boys to play in their Lego heaven, supervised by Maria. 

The modern and european rickshaws, still I don't want to be driven in it.

We just want a feel of the city, with its old buildings, white, clean, simple lines. At their first floors there are little restaurants or sweet shops, a few tables and chairs, shaded by colorful umbrellas. 

People can see how the cookies and cakes are made, while sampling them.

Everybody is dressed up, even the tourists (and there are many, from all over Europe and from the faraway Asia).

We visit their oldest church St. Stephen, its facade covered by scaffoldings, as specialists are trying to find a cure for the bacteria that darkens the surface of its rocks. It doesn’t feel like a prayer space, full of photo taking people, meandering between its columns.

We walk toward the palace,

In front of the Hofburg they found Roman ruins.

 and from there to the Opera.

We end our evening at the “Haus der Musik” the house of music, an interactive museum about sound, the auditory system, how the brain interprets the signals, the limits. 

This is how grains of sand rearrange when sound passes them.

Batons of Strauss and others.

We could even compose music, by throwing dice

 or superimposing different sounds [of landscape (beach, street) of humans (laughter, crying, sneezing) with other melodic pieces] 

or conduct the philharmonic orchestra with a magic wand. On a screen we could see the musicians waiting for our signal. We could choose from six well known pieces and then we had to wave the wand.  The musicians would follow our movements playing quicker or slower. The trick was to move the hand in the rhythm of the real piece. 

There was an informative exhibition about Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler with objects from their life time.

Those little books with a string are dance cards. The men would ask the girl for a dance and she would look in it to see if the polka, mazurka or waltz were free. If he had a preference, she would write down his name for that dance.

The second day, though we wanted to start early, we left the house around 11 to visit the palace. 

We didn't do it!

Hofburg was the winter residence of the imperial family, now a museum most of the time, and host for official meetings. 

The horse and cart bring forth a past time, also pestilent smells.

It starts with an unorthodox presentation: the kitchen and dishes. Even now, when we think of official dinners, we tend to think only of the people who participate and not give a thought to the tableware and arrangements. 

Every guest had to have his set of silverware (and it was made of real, heavy, beautifully carved silver), one for each of the 10 to 20 dishes, with its own set of crystal glasses (for each kind of wine that goes with the different dishes) and bottles of wine and carafes of water. 

The plates were also of silver, as the platters and other serving dishes. It was mind boggling! Just imagine how many people had to handle these things, polish them, cover them with ornamental napkins, carry them loaded with food and so on. 

Who worked under who's supervision.

The disappearing art of folding napkins

There was also a set of 12 gold dishes, only for the imperial family. And this was just a part, the usual one, because other ones were melted to finance the napoleonic wars. 

The exhibition continued with gilded bronze candelabras on mirrored trays (to reflect the light of the candles)

 and fine porcelain dishes (each a work of art in itself, with rims lace-like, different colors and gilded). 

At least they didn’t have two sets, one for here and another one for the Schönbrun palace, the summer residence. They were packing things in their coffers and moved them. 

They could afford all these and more by imposing taxes (heavy ones) on their subjects (now part of many other countries). But on the Good Thursday the imperial family would wash the feet of 12 poor men, the empress of 12 poor women, give them a good meal and send them home with a silver tankard of beer with the imperial crest on it. Maybe they thought that they were doing their Christian duty.

The second part of the museum combined the imperial apartments with the story of Sissi, the last empress of the Austro-Hungarian empire. A very beautiful woman, that spend two hours every day at the hairdresser (in the meantime she would learn a language French, English, Hungarian, Greek), she was fond of sports (she had in her room rings and bars for gymnastics, took up fencing, horseback riding), dieting, and personal hygiene (she introduced the modern bathroom as soon as technology made it possible). She was shy and didn’t like the requirements of the court, so she spent time away in different projects. She was assassinated by a deranged man who wanted to kill someone else (who changed his route). Their rooms were quite simple and unadorned, compared with Napoleon’s at Fontainebleau or Louis at the Versailles. 

Mihai continued to some other museum, we went home and met with him later at the restaurant (we had reservation!). The children had Viennese schnitzel and we shared with Alina a stelze, a pork-leg ham served with mustard and fresh horseradish. 

Add some beer, waiters in leather shorts, waitresses in traditional dresses and you get the idea.

The third day Mihai went by himself to visit the royal jewelry and some other museums (that were not in his initial plan, but because he was alone, he could do as he liked it) while we stayed home and talked and played. 

In the evening we had our big event, a night at the Opera, to see “L’Elixir d’Amore” by Donizetti. The girls dressed up (wearing the same size with Alina, she was so kind and lent them shawls, shoes and dress) and they were happy. There is no dress code for the opera, but many choose to wear their best (we saw a Japanese woman in her kimono, with the traditional hair-dress and makeup). Dressed in our shirts and pants, the same ones that crawled in the Madagascar’s caves, we mixed up with the other tourists in the balcony, who bought the last minute standing tickets.

To be sure there is no misunderstanding: people like different things. Our children used to whine at opera or symphonic music. Victor, asked a few questions, listened attentively the story before the show, and was glued to his mother’s knees for the entire spectacle. In the end he declared that he liked it, very much, and he wants to go again.

The whole thing, the atmosphere, the lights, the people drinking champagne, the arias followed by enthused applause, the “Bravo!” at the top of their lungs, the synchronized clapping to call the artists, they all made me realize that I miss this kind of life.

Last day arrived too early. In the morning we said good bye to Victor (who had to go to school), packed the bags and left for a quick visit to the Belvedere Museum, where they had a Gustav Klimt exhibition. It is interesting to see the small changes leading to that surprising and explosive break with the art canons.

These were the only Klimt that we were allowed to take pictures

Hurrying back we kept walking on the left side of the road, we even had a collision. „Tourists!” I thought, ”they don’t know on which side of the road to walk!” Then I realized, I am in the wrong... and only 9 months ago I had my first long term exposure at driving on the other side of the road. After Japan, India, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and UK, it is time to switch back to my normal, walking and driving on the right side of the road.

Vielen dank Alina und Victor!  (I’m trying to follow Victor’s example and have a better penmanship)

Many thanks Alina and Victor, for your hospitality, wonderful dishes, time and talks. We felt like we were home!

Auf wiedersehen, Wien! (ah-oof vee-dur-zen)

Good bye Vienna!

This is the monument of the Unknown "Robber" (Russian Soldier)

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