So much beauty out there

June 22, 2009

It’s Vienna, the World, as we know it, and I feel fine.

Filed under: All,Dear Diary,Travel — Josh @ 7:37 pm
Tags: ,

Unlike the rest of this trip where I’ve been walking round by myself most of the time, in Vienna I had a full-time guide. Alert readers may remember mention of a couple of Austrian girls who I met in Valencia who offered to show me round Vienna, and although unfortunately Ally couldn’t make it, Sabina generously sacrificed her weekend to show me the sights. While this was great for me, it meant that I told her any jokes I thought of, so I haven’t got (m)any left for you.

Before I arrived, my ideas about Vienna were almost entirely derived from Before Sunrise, one of my favourite films, which showed a lot of the city as a backdrop to the plot. And it looked a beautiful city. However, in 3 days here, I barely recognised a single scene from the movie – but still saw a lot of lovely stuff. So I guess there’s a lot of prettiness in Vienna.

First up was the pomp of the Ring Strasse, lots of impressive architecture from the Habsburg imperial period. The Rathaus is particularly nice, but the general appeal was in the collective grandeur of the buildings rather than that any one of them was individually magnificent. You can get a tourist tram that goes around the area in a loop, called the Ring Tram. I guess if you did the same route by bike it would be the Ring Cycle.

Then we had a quick look at the Cathedral, which as a now practiced Cathedral evaluator I would classify as “middling”. I am also practiced at disapproving of the outfits people choose to wear for their tourist visits to religious buildings but the biker jacket with “Hellfire” in large letters on the back was probably a nadir.

After that we went away from the centre to see an incinerator designed by Hundertwasser. Normally I wouldn’t rate something like that particularly high on my itinerary, but it looks better than the average one. After that we went for a walk down the canal before deciding that was enough worthiness and hitting the bars.

Mourning Schiele

Mourning Schiele

Saturday, and a visit to the Hundertwasser museum. Hundertwasser was a visionary architect as well as a pretty good artist with a penchant for bright colours, non-conformity, integration of nature with architecture and grandiose manifestos. The museum itself was  his design and is a great building. It also contains models of some of his other projects, as well as his utopian Meadow Hills scheme which envisaged building houses like burrows with earth over the roofs for a true communion with nature. He proudly proclaimed that the only disadvantage would be tourists coming to gawp at its ingenuity but tragically no-one has yet believed him enough to try it out. As for his art, I liked a lot of it, though there was nothing to match his architecture. Highlights included a singing steamship and a painting entitled Mourning Schiele which seems to suggest the best way to do it is by picking your nose with your knob out.

He also did a brilliant poster for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, though it also looks vaguely apocalyptic – particularly given what did happen at those games.

In the evening we walked along the Danube. In the 1970s, in order to prevent the river flooding the city it was slightly re-directed, with an island put in the middle. So there is now a two stream “New Danube”, one of which has big boats and mud and one of which is blue and has swimmers and other leisure stuff. It’s all very scenic. The “old” Danube now comes to an abrupt halt in a small lake which is used as an impromptu swimming pool in summer and ice-rink in winter.

Then to the Praten, where the elderly and dignified Ferris wheel that is one of the symbols of Vienna has been surrounded by a youthful and undignified amusement park. The metro station also offered directions towards a “Kiss and Ride” scheme. Quite what this entailed remains a mystery to me. I apologise for my shoddy research.

Sunday and off onmy own to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM), Sabina having no interest in “Jesus Museums”, galleries dominated by representative depictions of religious themes. As Jesus Museums go, the KHM is not as narrowly focussed as some (the Uffizi for instance) with lots of portraiture as well as a sizeable collection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish art which tended to deal with more varied themes than its Italian or Spanish equivalents. Some of the best stuff: Titian, Portrait of Jacopo Strada (much more interesting than his usual portraits), Savoldo, Lamentation Over Christ (proper Jesus Museum stuff), Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, Jacob Jordaens, The Feast of the Bean King. The best room was one devoted to Van Dyck, including Study Head of a Woman Looking Up. As well as the art there was also a floor of Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Etruscan relics. Been there, done that on this trip and although the sarcophagi and Greek vases were still very pretty, there was no translation available on this floor which made most of the collection incomprehensible. There was also one room of Roman busts which looked unsettlingly like the halls of cyrogenically frozen heads you get in sci-fi.

After that, met up with Sabina again for a meal and then a lounge on these seats in the Museum Quarter. Along with the space in front of the Rathaus and the banks of the canal, this is a popular public space for cultural events which are apparently very common in Vienna – while we were there there was a DJ playing an excellent set of Reggae, Blues, Hip-Hop and Soul, while there was a performance art thing going on too – as well as a girl with a piece of card offering “free hugs”. I can easily see the appeal of this sort of event as the settings are attractive and traditional culture seems to be rather expensive.

Speaking of expensive, a week in Rome and Vienna of eating nice food and going to cool bars has hit my budget so I’m heading to Eastern Europe to allow my wallet to recuperate. Next stop Prague.



  1. I remember the free hugs thing from Lille too, i was even invited to be a huggeur; i think its a couchsurfing thing… fortunately (i always seemed to meet the Lillois who deny the existence of deodorants) my english fear of close bodily contact with complete strangers precluded me from the event!
    Did your english fear of close bodily contact with complete strangers prevent you from partaking?!

    Comment by Kate — June 24, 2009 @ 8:16 pm | Reply

    • I think it was more that she was about 50 metres away. And I’d have had to get up too.
      She also had another board which we couldn’t read. Were there 2 offers in Lille?

      Comment by Josh — June 24, 2009 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

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