We woke early the morning of our journey to Austria, took leisurely baths in the giant tub in our apartment and packed. A quick Sunday morning subway ride took us back to the scene of rail bureaucracy, and we got not only our seats, but those of the kind woman across from us. She realized we preferred to sit together and face forward to see the country, and moved to read her book facing backwards. Having experienced some motion-sickness on the first leg of the trip, her kindness was especially appreciated! We had two changes of trains, first at the Hungarian Border and again close to Vienna. And when we arrived at our destination, there was my old friend Kathi and her adorable new car. After many hugs it was only a quick hop to her family farm in Moosbrunn (“Mossy Well”).
We had a delightful afternoon of relaxation, snacks, walking the adorable golden retriever down country streams, inspecting the many improvements since last I was there, and seeing her family. Brother Philipp has been using the barn for his architectural renovation business: the piles of ancient building parts (from massive doors to abandoned altars) crowd the old car body he’s working on, and the classic Viennese tiles he’s matching and remaking. Given my own father’s workshops and my uncle’s saw mill, I felt thoroughly at home.
We shared a dinner of chili and polenta with the whole clan, including paterfamilias Wolfgang (now 87), mother Monika (now my Facebook friend) and Philipp’s wonderful wife Connie and son Kajetan. Afterwards, goodbyes were said, and Kathi drove us to her marvelous Vienna apartment. Some of it looked the same but many other bits have been radically improved in the decades since last I’d seen them. Fascinating how few people I know who’ve remained in the same home for so long a time….
The next morning, Kathi led us a few blocks from home to the Westbahnhoff. Much changed since I arrived there unannounced some 26 years ago, it is now part-shopping plaza. Soon it will no longer be the stopping point for all trains from the west; they will instead travel to the Hauptbahnhoff, where travelers will easily be able to transfer to eastern and southern lines. In our case, it was shopping for local foodstuffs (sheep yogurt? Incredible ricotta-like texture that will no doubt make a fine gluten-free ravioli or cheesecake!) then home for our transportation this day was to by car. After a little hanging out we set out to Slovakia by way of Castle Devin.
While the ruined castle was lovely, we were most astonished by the local sheep who were in full possession of their tails!
We continued to Bratislava on a picture perfect day. A taste of impeccably festooned Mardi Gras dancers and drummers greeted us as we emerged up from the Carlton car park – hardly the Balkan folk dancing one might have expected!
Bratislava was as beautiful as we’d heard, but sporting more graffiti that any classical city should. The central cathedral’s green metal tower roof was inlaid with gold and looked up to the castle on the hill (the better to ignore the highway at its base). The statuary, clocks and design were gorgeous and somewhat obscure – sleepy dragons lay near solicitous guardsmen as a starry lunar clock turned slowly in the tower above. There were many charming and surprising statues, one silver fellow startled Venetia not because he moved but because of his failure to do so!
After some failure to escape the Slovakian countryside, we finally found a road that allowed a western crossing back into Austria and drove home into the glorious setting sun through fields of windmills. We shared buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes before the dinner Kathi made of gluten-free pasta, 2 kinds of mushrooms, truffle oil and pork loin. A little musical conversation (and the inevitable YouTube sharing) followed, before we all collapsed for the evening.
The next morning we headed back to shop, this time for chocolate as we had already devoured our stash. After looking at the supermarket selection we stalked up on both our favorite Lindt orange, as well as new and unexpected flavors: pistachio, chili, and various nuts. Our adventure of the day was off in the Northern reaches of Wein, to Nussdorf, via the Hunderwasser-designed incinerator called “the Golden Plum”.
We arrived too late to see Connie, but in time to wake young Kajetan from his nap and get a tour of Philipp’s remarkable old house and a few of it’s more extraordinary fixtures.
The five of us took an evening walk along the Danube and over a glorious bridge across the channel. After taking the requisite reference pictures (there’s a Michael Parkes Painting waiting to happen), we picked up Ice Cream from Kajetan, chips for us, and climbed the back streets up into the rolling vineyards.
As we hiked, the gorgeous weather gave way to a splendid sunset over the city as it spread out below us to the south. We came down via the grapevine rows and through the graveyard until we reached the walled creek channel.
We followed that down to a restaurant called 21 dots, where the sushi (and related delicacies) flowed. We chatted with Kathi and Philipp, and tormented Katetan in our sly way, as we enjoyed Spicy Duck Sushi. We opted to avoid the Hello Kitty Roll, no matter how much we admired the notion of devouring her (and the use of beet juice to stain the sushi rice).
On our second full day in Vienna, we headed into the city proper by way of the subway at the Westbahnhoff. We exited on the other side of the city, and headed southward through the park – documenting textures and vistas as we went. We eventually turned down the grand boulevard, past equestrian statues and memorial fountains to Russian soldiers, past Nouveau building, and a few embassies, to the gate of the Belvedere. After a quick view of the grounds, we bought our tickets and headed into the old palace.
The usual suspects (Klimt, Schiele, Rodin, Monet et al) were as gorgeous as I remembered from my journey here 26 years ago. But the big surprise was seeing Giovanni Segantini’s ‘The Evil Mothers’ in person. Seeing it life-size and uncropped was a revelation (and really – Such a peculiar painting!), and so were ‘The Senses’ and the enormous court scene painted by Makart.
The Habitrail contraption of flashing lights that purported to be a psych experiment certainly came as a surprise too, as did the funballs with slip covers that lay about the place. It was like something from an old Ken Russell film….
After looking through the entirety of the palace (and at the views therefrom) we headed further south, toward the new Hauptbahnhoff. From there via tram to St. Marx Cemetery, more for the beauty of the ancient stones than to visit Mozart’s remains (though of course we paid those respects as well). Countless ancient worn and vandalized markers lie everywhere, with vines and trees and sometime fallen stones occluding them. However it was heartening to see the care and work put into restoring the old graveyard, even though it means losing some of the decaying beauty.
We had energy left for only a few hours in the graveyard before we took our weary feet back to the tram line, and a straightforward trip back to Kathi’s. Thank heavens for simple and effective public transport! After dinner, Kathi took us out to the Ferris Wheel made famous by that old style gangster Harry Lime. The small park beneath has changed a lot since last I was there last, including the ability to have a $500 meal while gracefully spinning on the wheel. A Basilisk-themed toy store, a tall column of swings and a hall of scale-model mirrors were among the other new-to-me attractions. The sun set as we were leaving, casting luscious colors over the gaudy ones already there. Perfect timing.
And of course we had to exit via the gift shop!
From there via subway we headed into the heart of the old city at twilight. Old steps, alleys, back ways and, of course, St. Stephens Cathedral – all the more inscrutable and powerful in silhouette. After a quick circuit there, we headed back and fell into a deep sleep.