Vienna
December 201
7
More photos here

We'd been to Vienna twice before, but the last time was five years ago, so combining a revisit with some Christmas market action appealed mightily. My first German Christmas market experience last year had also seen me buying and wearing my first hat, in Cologne. The festive markets in Vienna are reportedly classier affairs than elsewhere, which brings up the whole 'is a tasteful Christmas a contradiction' conundrum. A visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum is planned, as I've just had three weeks of Bruegel on my course devoted to 16th Century Northern Renaissance art, and the Kunsthistorisches is basically Bruegel Central - it has the most and the best.

Sunday 3rd
The journey to Heathrow was trouble-free, but also lacked any incidents or observations worth the telling. Landing in Vienna, over fields full of snow, we were momentarily confused by the arrival and departure gates sharing the same halls, also full of shops, like they're usually not, but breezed through security and baggage collection. We made the rookie mistake, though, of buying the CAT express train ticket while we waited for our bags, because when you do this it guarantees you'll find the service cancelled or the company on strike. Finding the former applied here we had to then buy a different ticket for the ordinary, stopping, train, but we made good time anyway. After checking into the Hotel Stefanie we ventured into the centre for some early Christmas market action, some pasta at da Gennaro, a place we liked last time, and a brief visit to another Christmas market, where I picked up a cake called a marzipan potato. But it was so cold we were forced to scurry back to our warm hotel.

Monday 4th
I noticed the local church bells telling the time in the night (well from 6.00) which is odd, but didn't keep me awake. Breakfast was fine and fresh in all departments. Weather cold and windy and snowing. Having forgotten to bring my famous first hat from last year's trip to Cologne, I this morning acquired my second ever hat - a knitted one. To churches today, we figured, as all the galleries and museums are closed on Monday. To the Stefansdom first, which was crowded and had a concert being rehearsed. We had a brief turn around the north aisle, but decided to come back for a better look around the nave and south aisle, which costs several euros. To the Michaeler-kirche next, an old church much rebuilt, but with some fascinating old bits too. Being lured into the small Christmas market opposite, we went through the palace complex a bit and then turned right to the large one in front of the Rathaus, where a big cinnamon star bun and some Vienna-themed Christmas decorations were bought. Returning back toward our hotel, we found a restaurant called Lebenbauer with many different veggie options. My tortelloni were exceptionally nice, coming with vegetables in a spicy curry-like coconut sauce. A post-prandial pair more Christmas markets, involving the purchase of a pot of marzipan spread, and a visit to the Scottish Church, whose shop had some very tasteful Xmas cards, with gilt bits, based on frescos and medieval manuscripts, before scooting back to our hotel for a warm and a snooze.
In the evening we headed for Karlsplatz, where the Christmas market was more artsy-craftsy, and so was even called ARTS ADVENT in big capitals, with its gluwein mag therefore very tasteful too, so we had some. Well, I actually had alcoholic orange punch, which was v. nice. And organic. We then went to Cavaliere, the other Italian we liked from our last trip, nearer our hotel, and my pizza with parmesan shavings and rocket was most superior.

Tuesday 5th
To the Kunsthistorisches this morning, in the rain. A big Rubens exhibition is on, as opposed to the usual exhausting long sequence of rooms full of the gallery's huge Rubens collection. Not much difference there, then, especially in my lack of enthusiasm. But the Giorgiones and other Venetians are satisfying (and now have a proper room to themselves), the Bruegels a current enthusiasm, the Vermeer a treat and the Northern Renaissance generally pleasingly represented. No surprises, but lots of quiet gems, especially as the gallery wasn't too busy. A piece of advice for the first-time visitor - the front entrance has a door at each end and a cash desk behind each door, and the right-hand one usually has the shorter queue. To a restaurant Levante for lunch - a falafel sandwich and chips for me and a cheese and spinach pizza-y thing for Jane, who was felling under-the-weather in the evening, so we stayed in, and I had a bath in lieu of food.

Wednesday 6th
This morning, after a brief visit to the Dominican church, we made first for the Stephansdom Museum, which is also the diocesan museum. It's not big, and half of it was taken up with rooms where modern art puts some of the medieval stuff in context. But there is still more than enough of the real (old) stuff to make a visit worthwhile. There's a lot of wood sculptures, a good number of altarpiece panels which you can get very close to, and three wonderful manuscripts in a case. Lots of large tour groups cluttering up small spaces, but a bishop put in an appearance too.
The collection of the Vienna  Academy of Fine Arts (Akademie der bildenden Künste) was moved temporarily to the theatre museum building earlier this year, so we went and found it there, and found it to have some mighty good stuff. The highlight is the big Bosch Last Judgement Triptych, but there's also a few by Cranach, a variety of Netherlandish gems, a late Titian, three Guardis, and some weird 18th century mythological scenes full of people staring off in odd directions, to make you frown. Sundry other stuff too, making for another very worthwhile visit, in short. For lunch a bakers on the way back to the hotel provided a couple of tasty cheesy filled seedy rolls and a nutty Danish thing.
In the evening we made a return visit to the Rathaus Christmas Market, which was indeed a winter wonderland by night. Some biscuits - almond, cinnamon, apple and cinnamon, and coconut flavoured - were picked and mixed too, before we headed back through the palace to our Italian of the first night for tomato soup and gnocchi. Then back to the hotel for tea and a cinnamon biscuit before bed time.

Thursday 7th
Having not much explored the considerable joys of Otto Wagner's buildings, and secession architecture generally, so far this trip, today we decided to devote a morning. To Otto W's Postparkasse (Post Savings Bank) first, which has a museum in the sweet small banking hall at the back and a shop. Or rather it did - it was closed, and when I asked at the building's enquiry desk I was told it wasn't closed for the winter but 'for ever'. Bum! (A photo of us two reflected in a Christmas bauble on a Christmas tree in the large banking hall made up for the disappointment, a bit.) We walked to the Karlsplatz Pavilion next, to find its museum closed for the winter, and the outside besmirched by graffiti (see right). The curse on the day continued with the Secession building itself being covered in scaffolding. A slight, if strange, ray of light was provided by a walk through the nearby food market and spotting that one stall sold mango flavoured hummus. Tasty rolls were bought from the same bakers as yesterday for lunch, but a different cake - a dense spongy current bun, which was nicer than it sounds.
A last stroll around town in the evening, taking in some favourite Christmas markets, but no purchases were made. Another odd product was spotted though - a jar of poppy seed spread. A uniquely dark grey product. To Cavaliere again on the way back to our hotel, where I went for a total tomato experience with the soup and the spaghetti sauce.

Friday 8th
Our flight being at 13.40 gave us time for a last short sightsee, taking in the Stepansdom, where a service was on, it being the holiday of the Immaculate Conception and the streets and roads therefore being weekend-quiet. Back to the hotel for facilities-use and case collection, followed by a trouble-free CAT train ride to the airport. Terminal one is a bit far from the train platform, but all was smooth, although having separate security at each gate is still confusing.












 



Trip reading


Michael Frayn Headlong
Not set in Vienna, but there's a lot about Breugel and his works, as the story concerns the possible discovery of a lost painting in the painter's seasons sequence, and the adventures and misfortunes that ensue for the misguided sap who makes said discovery and his attempts to profit from it. His research and conclusions are explored and explained in much detail and this deep Bruegel content is, I think, more compelling than the somewhat slapstick story but it's involving, if only moderately gripping.
 




For actual Viennese flavour there are stories by Stefan Zweig, and A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, which is a long one and a daunting prospect. Also now on my list are The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler and The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, which were spotted in a local bookshop's Viennese Authors section, the latter having been made into a film by Michael Heneke. One of the Zweig stories I read in Vienna was the very sad Letter from an Unknown Woman, which was filmed by Max Orphuls starring Louis Jourdan and Joan Fontaine and which I must try to see. The other, a novella, was called Burning Secret and tells of a baron on holiday who sets himself the task of seducing a beautiful fellow guest, but makes the mistake of using overtures of friendship towards her needy young son to cynically effect this. The feelings of the sensitive son are not to be so easily trampled.  
 




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