These vignettes were transcribed directly out of my journal from the trip, which means they haven’t been edited. This is partially because I’m lazy, and partially because I’m writing two research papers a week, and partially because your descriptions in the moment often capture it the best, even if they are a little halting. Please any too long run-on sentences of effusive description.
Schloss Schönbrunn. Walking away from town in search of the Hofburg’s summer palace, we were just starting to think we’d made a wrong turn when it rose up in front of us like a cream-washed mirage striped by mullioned windows glinting in the pale sun. Behind the palace, the gardens run away a flat open space with swirling geometric patterns of foliage and flowers in the middle and thick winding labyrinths of prickly green shrub, perfect for lover’s trysts, on either side. This sprawling landscape extends to a large green knoll embedded with a statue of Poseidon and criss-crossed with paths leading like corset strings to the buttery-colored stone pantheon at the top. The Gloriette crests the hill like golden foam and looks out on the spired and red brick sprawl of cobbled Vienna like a king surveying his kingdom (because that’s what they actually did). We wandered the white dirt walks among the last blooms of red roses and the final sheen of luscious green vines, peons on the dusty paths once intended only for the soft stroll of royals.
Belveder Castle. As we walked back into town and to Belveder in late afternoon, the sun finally emerged from the clouds, striking the serene cream and seafoam green façade of the castle with clean clear light. Everything shone like it had been freshly washed and folded and was still warm from the dryer, a slivery wrapped present from the heavens with all the corners crisply folded in sharply measured garden pathways and tied with the frothing diamond ribbon of playful fountains.
Mozart at the Musikverein. By a mad stroke of luck, we discovered we could attend a night-of performance of the Viennesse Philharmonic Orchestra for 5 euro, standing room only. The hall itself is a confection of solid gold which glistened from the light of two rows of dripping chandelier bowls, the ropes of their light studded with brightly glittering diamonds. The orchestra was immaculate in black suits and white shirts, throbbing to the reverberating cadence of strings and led by the expressively jubilant motions of the conductor. It was one of the most magical and ethereal evenings of my life–I have never heard music played with so much precision or affection or light. We felt immensely blessed to have stumbled upon such an exquisite gem in our trip just by chance–it was the musical equivalent of the sun that afternoon and we basked in God’s gifts to us.
Votif Kirche. We were lucky to visit this church in the north of the city early in the morning, both because it was free of tourists and because the sun was at a perfect position to shine through Votif Kirche’s stained glass windows. Much of the outside was riddled by scaffolding, as was the altar, and the sanctuary was spare and unadorned but for racks of flickering votive candles in red glass holders warm to the touch and beaded with droplets of wax. But the effect of the simple interior was to showcase the patterns of colored light thrown on the floors and pillars by the stained glass. We had really yet to see sunlight really hit glass in a way that transcribed the exact colors and outlines of the figures onto the floor, an undiluted mosaic you could pass your hand through and be flushed with color like a chameleon. We were mesmerized.
Café Central. This was our literary and cultural mecca. We lunched under the gracefully curved ceiling of Café Central–strung with bulbed chandeliers and scrubbed clean of cigarette smoke, the regular gathering place of Viennese intellectuals the likes of Leo Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, and Sigmund Freud. Our (so sophisticated) lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches cut delicately with silver cutlery and dipped in cocktail sauce was eerily populated by the ghosts of such great minds amidst the aura of the afternoon rush and the bustling of waiters in tails.
Stevensdom. The longest standing religious location in Vienna first visited in the 1100s, St. Peter’s Kirche was choked with tourists and prohibited entry beyond the last row of pews unless you wanted to buy a ticket. The church dripped with icons and embellished columns and crèches, Madonnas, cherubs, low-sweeping iron chandeliers, and the thick dimness of incense barely kept at bay by the rows of burning candles. The whole place had a drooping, dripping, gloomy, and overly-dressed air as if it was trying to cover something up–and was failing.