It’s easy to forget how big the States are (is?) until you either travel through them or leave them altogether. I’ve lived in and been to more of the US than most people I know, and still there is so much I haven’t seen and, depending on time and circumstances, may never see. But it has always been my rule to see and do as much as possible and that has obviously not changed since coming to Istanbul.
So as my winter break comes to an end (school starts back up on Monday), I thought this would be a good time to update on my recent trip. Since I would have some time and a little bit of money, my boyfriend and I decided to travel to Vienna, Austria. It was a good compromise since I wanted to go to Odessa, Ukraine, and he wanted to go somewhere warmer. We both speak German (though we are both quite rusty), and neither of us had ever been. And since we were in Vienna for a week, we thought we should also take a couple of days to go across the border to Bratislava, Slovakia.
We flew into Vienna on Tuesday and stayed at the Wombats Lounge Hostel on Mariahilferstrasse next to West Banhof metro station. Though the hostel wasn’t centrally located, we were able to easily walk or take the metro anywhere we needed. We got there late and didn’t venture out too much until the next day when we decided to take in a few museums. Before we left, we decided to eat breakfast at the hostel. They provided an all you can eat buffet breakfast for about four Euros. After eating a large breakfast and taking some fruit for the road, we usually didn’t eat much again until dinner. Wednesday morning, we headed to the Museum Quarter and bought a combination package which got us into the MUMOK (the modern art museum), the Leopold (a contemporary art museum), and another art museum (which I can’t remember the name of because it was really quite awful, but it was right next to the MUMOK) for about 21 Euro per person. That day we made it through the MUMOK, the main exhibit which was Dan Flavin, and the Leopold, which had three main exhibits: Egon Schiele and Klimt, Naked Men, and Japanese Art. The Leopold was by far my favorite of the day. When I was in grad school, I had a poster of Klimt’s “The Kiss” above my dresser. So to see some of his work and much of Schiele’s, who was inspired and mentored by Klimt, was really amazing. The Japanese Art was also quite breathtaking. They had an array of mediums and styles, but my favorite of the Japanese art was being able to see Hokusai’s “The Great Wave.” The Nude Men exhibit was interesting, but not something I need to see again. That night we did a bit of shopping. There are many things you can get in Turkey, but some things, like corn chips, are hard to find or expensive to get. But after a bit of shopping, we had dinner at a local brewery, 7 Stern Brau. It was a little pricey, but had good food, good beer, and a good atmosphere.
On Thursday we started off by going to der Naschmarkt, an open-air market near the center of town. Though it wasn’t exactly the Grand Bazaar, it was still quite large with spices, meats, cheeses, clothes, restaurants, wines, beers, jewelry, and trinkets. We got some spices, a few post cards, and a pretzel, but mostly just enjoyed the atmosphere. After walking through the market, we decided to (call us crazy) walk some more. Vienna is so beautiful and even if you don’t manage to make it in any building, it’s almost enough to walk outside and look at the detail and care that goes into each stairway, column, or spire. We walked past St. Charles Church, posed for pictures, then walked and all the way down to the Belvedere Palace. The Belvedere belonged to the Habsburgs who ruled the Austrian-Hungary empire until 1918. We didn’t go in the palace, but instead just walked around the grounds. And though it was winter, the grounds were beautiful. They had mazes of bushes, gorgeous statues of women and mythical creatures, and overall created a regal air that transformed you to an earlier time (when all the money of the country could go to making palaces and beautiful grounds for the monarchy and women waltzed in ballrooms, lightly stepping and standing straight, and men made business deals, smoking pipes on a bench by the fountain out back). I would definitely like to go back during the spring one year to get the full effect.
We then made our way through some of the main walking circle, or Ringstrasse, and let the roads take us where they will. We ended up in a small café for a while before stumbling upon my favorite part of the whole trip: The State Hall National Library. What girl who grew up addicted to books and watched Beauty and the Beast could not fall in love with a library like this? The shelves of books reached the ceilings, which you could reach with any of the wooden, rolling ladders (well, if you’d been approved to touch any of them, that is). The second floor opened up into a balcony so everything was visible. The ceiling was a work of art in itself, and in the middle of the library stood a statue of the original owner posing as Hercules. Each book was individually printed and leather-bound, many were hand-printed. They dated back all the way to the 1500’s; some were the size of a pack of matches and others were at least half my height. They had some pages on display for the public to view and it made me realize that no matter how well read you think you are, you could never possibly be well read enough. There are just too many books and too many languages.
After dragging me away from the library, we walked some more, back towards our hostel. Along the way we managed to find the most beautiful Rathaus that ever existed. Its spires and detail reminded me of the dripping, natural feel of the Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona. It seemed crazy to me that this could be a government building. It was also crazy to me that they were blocking much of the view with a large winter festival in front of it, ice-rink and all. We hung around the Rathaus and checked out the Parliament building before heading back to our hostel. After a long day of walking, we decided to get a late dinner of pizza before going to bed.
This is already a long post, so I think I’ll give you a break and divide the trips into two posts. More to come on our last couple days in Vienna and our couple days in Bratislava.