Saturday, May 26, 2007

In Vienna

(Sorry. Again, rough text.)


Woke up early and went up to the top deck for a half hour’s meditation and catching up with yesterday’s events on the laptop while Ellie was still sleeping. Stopped by the reception desk to discover that the online connection was not working: we were berthed between two sister ships, I was told. A fine excuse. Anyway, I made a cup of coffee instead, and a cup of tea for Ellie and headed back to the cabin to get ready for the day.

After the usual excellent breakfast, the buses arrived on the quay for our introductory tour of the city—and indeed did a complete circuit of the Ring streets, which circle the city where the old wall used to stand. These streets lead past virtually all the major monuments, so it makes for a pretty easy sight-seeing trip: in a single loop, you take in the Opera and the Burggarten, the Hofburg and the Heldenplatz, the major museums and the Rathaus—not to mention the statues of Mozart and Strauss and Schiller and Goethe and Franz Josef and Maria Theresien…. Vienna is surely one of the most beuatiful cities in Europe, with great, wide boulevards interspersed with narrow alleys filled with wonderful surprises. At every corner, it seems, some great composer lived here: Mozart and Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bruckner, Schoenberg and, well, of course, there’s always Salieri and Strauss. Our guide was endlessly informative and fluent in her English.

After the Ring, our bus tour brought us to the Belevedere, where we had just an hour to spend in the galleries. Of special note was the wonderful collection of Gustav Klimts and the Egon Scieles, unsurprising, of course, in this part of the world, where they once lived and worked, but a feast for the eyes nonetheless. Ellie and I were particularly taken with some of the Schiele paintings,

of which we have seen few before, and somewhat regretted the loss of the wonderful drawing from her parents collection—a loss, at least, to the family, and a gain for the Los Angeles County Museum. We found a few minutes, at the end, for some choice medieval paintings and sculptures, and marveled at their meticulous detail.

The tour dropped us off at the city center, in front of the Stephansdom, and we joined out friends Tom and Danette and parted from the Viking gang for our own afternoon walking tour of the inner city. We spent only a few minutes inside the dark, gothic cathedral with its occasional rococo flourishes, where only worshippers were permitted past the railings designed to keep tourists in the back. Understandable. Re-emerging into the light, we wandered past Mozart’s house in the shadow of the cathedral, and found a great lunch stop in the Neumarkt. Ellie and I shared a good salad and a ham and asparagus plate—and tasted some of Tom’s excellent fried cheese.

Deciding against a prolonged visit to the Jewish Museum, given the shortage of time, we wandered on through the narrow streets and came upon an auction house filled with fascinating treasures. At another time, we might have been tempted by some of the wonderful glass objects—and Ellie by the jewelry! On toward the Hofburg, passing up on the (expensive!) visit to the Spanish Riding School but stopping for a photo-op at the stables. Then on through the palace and back to the Ring, with another stop for a well-deserved rest—and a respite from the heat—under the shady trees of the Burggarten.

Speculating about a huge conservatory structure at one edge of the garden, we discovered it to be the “Schmetterlinghaus”—the Butterfly House—and succumbed to the temptation to investogate. It proved to be exactly what it said—a hothouse filled with all kinds of colorful specimens of butterfly, some brilliant, some quite huge, all fluttering here and there and settling on the lush leaves of the plants and on the (plastic!) orchids sprayed with homey to attract them. We left sweating from the heat and humidity inside, but grateful for a small, if unexpected adventure.

A couple of blocks from there to the Opera, to find that access was allowed only on official tours. To console ourselves, we found the Sacher Hotel, instead, immediately behind the Opera, and indulged in the famous Sachertorte (delicious!) and an exceptional cup of coffee. Ellie was so excited that she forgot to take her handbag with her when she left. Fortunately, it was still there when we rushed back to find it.

We navigated the subway—very easily, in fact—back to the Vorgartenstrasse, the closest stop to the harbor, and found a convenient gelato establishment to compound our excess of only one hour before. Then back to the Viking Spirit in time to relax in the sun—and the wind!—with our friends over the complimentary bottle of Veuve Cliquot that is left for top-deck passangers like ourselves!

An evening of celebration on board. More complimentary champagne and a round of toasts, with the captain and the tour managers making the tour of the cabin for individual thanks and toasts. Then, from Frank, a lengthy set of debarkation instructions, and an excellent “farewell dinner,” followed by a sparkler parade of all members of the crew, and introductions and grateful applause from the guests as each of the crew individually took a bow. Got to bed too late, too well fed, too sated with champagne, too tired—but at least with a sense of pleasurable camaraderie.

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