Monday, November 19, 2012

Vienna Day 4: Walking Tour, Wiener Schitzel and St Stephensdom

Today was my last day in Vienna, and I was determined to get the walking tour that sets off from an associated hostel every second morning. We set out and got to the meeting point five minutes too late, but a man at the desk told us we could probably catch them up. After a bit of confusion about how long they could be possibly taking through the market, the large group appeared and we tagged on to them.

Our guide was very good, explaining all about the buildings and history of the city. The first building we saw was the one I may have mentioned the other day with the gold dome - the Secession Building. It was built as a gallery for artists who wanted to move away from the traditional styles at the turn of the twentieth century, and was the first art gallery to have clean white walls and very little decoration, in order to show off the art.

Next was the Vienna Opera House where you can see an opera for 3€ if you stand, and then the beginning of the Vienna Palace, which is a collection of buildings that goes on and on and on. Some of it is now used as an art gallery, some as libraries, and some as state offices.

It seems strange that you can just walk among all these buildings, staring up at the windows from the small courtyards and alleyways between them, where once I guess these were heavily guarded areas of the city. We also went past the Sacher Hotel, which I'm not exactly sure how to spell, but it's why the famous Sacher Torte is named as it is, and is also where that famous picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed was taken.

We walked down some of the most expensive shopping streets, and past an incredible monument to the plague that stretches up in three levels and has far more gold than you'd think would be on a monument outside H&M. The first level has an angel driving the personification of the plague into the ground, the next has the emperor with his gold sword praying on his knees (the only public place in Europe you will see a monarch on their knees) and above him are more angels and God.

The guide left us with recommendations for lunch, so a few of us had a good meal in a wood-panelled restaurant off a little alleyway. I was a bit worried about the Wiener schnitzel because I don't much like pork, but it was actually very good and came with salad and everything. No tomato sauce was required.

Nearby is the cathedral of St Stephen's, which we took a wander around inside after our lunch. It was once the tallest building in the world, and is pretty impressive from the outside with its towering pillars, incredible stonework and gold-and-black tiled roof. It was bombed during WWII, but was restored and reopened in 1955. You can't really tell there was ever anything done to it.

It was almost time to get my bus to the airport, so we went back to our hostel to get my bag. Now I'm sitting in the airport ...

... that was me realising that the screens said my flight was already boarding, and me realising that the gate was actually a lot farther away than I thought, and deciding that, though nice and modern, this airport possibly isn't very well designed because it's never quite clear how many more barriers and travelators there are until you reach your destination.

Incidentally, the flight is not boarding. They lied. Ah well. At least I'm here now. And contemplating the fact that I am severely behind on my word count for NaNoWriMo. This is what happens when you miss a day...


Vienna Day 3: Schönbrunn, Christmas Markets and Viennese Apartments

On Sunday the One Who Speaks Russian and I rose for our all-you-can eat hostel breakfast, which included boiled eggs, salami, capsicum and cucumber as many European breakfasts seem to. We loaded up on emergency supplies of Nutella and set out to walk to Schönbrunn, the Palace of the Habsburgs outside old Vienna proper.

The mist had come in overnight and everything had a silvery white light to it, so much so that from a distance things seemed covered in a light dusting of snow. The Palace is incredibly large and stately, with mirrored staircases leading down from main doors between the two wings. You can imagine Cinderella leaving her glass slipper on these steps. They were still setting up a Christmas market in the courtyard in front of the place, but they had an enormous Christmas tree up and decorated with baubles.

We walked around the side of the palace and through the gardens with their little hedges and dozens of statues. Everything is set up along a symmetrical line leading from the centre of the palace to the Neptune Fountain, and then up the hill to the Gloriette, a beautiful airy classical building with arches. It wasn't quite symmetrical (some of the trees on one side of the gardens are taller) but pretty much everything else was. After the zigzag climb up the hill we sat in the Gloriette and drank tea and coffee, which comes with a glass of water in Austria, and marvelled at the misty view over the palace and city beyond.

Next was the tour of the palace itself. You had to buy tickets at the main gate, so The One Who Speaks Russian offered to get them while I sat on a bench and nursed my legs, which were a bit sore after all the walking. I think next time I come to Vienna, I won't break my foot in the weeks beforehand.

The Palace rooms are incredible. They're mostly done in Rococo style, with curling gold mouldings everywhere and incredible crystal chandeliers. There are paintings covering entire walls that took years to complete in one room, and then you go into the next room and there are more paintings that took years to complete, and in the next room too. You can see they had a lot of money.

Marie Antoinette was a Habsburg daughter, and there is a portrait of her as a young girl in one of the rooms. A bit further on is the room where Mozart played for the Empress when he was six years old. I had heard of this concert, and it was absolutely surreal to be in the actual room where it had occurred.

At last we went into the Great Hall, which I actually gasped on seeing. The ceiling is three incredible frescoes of the Imperial family and the Austrian Empire in general, and flickering candelabra line the walls (the flickering effect is achieved by having the electric candle bulbs in springs that bobble in the wind. Actually quite tasteful). The ceiling is high and the walls are covered in curling gold designs. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed in the palace.

We took the underground to the Christmas market outside the Rathaus, which is the most famous and the busiest. It was just on dusk, and though the crowds weren't as thick as those we saw later, it was still a mission to get through everyone and see the stalls you wanted. Most of them sold food, but there were also lots of Christmas decoration stalls and a lamp stall among other things. We decided to make for TOWSR's friend's hostel, which is actually an apartment that she has entirely to herself at the moment.

The apartment is on the first floor, and you open the main door into a cobbled entranceway, climb some marble stairs, go along a corridor with an ornate stone water basin on the wall (dating from the time of the very first piped water, I'm guessing) and into the apartment. We had a lovely evening with dinner and a movie in the warm apartment, then set off for our own hostel.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Vienna Day 2: Naschtmarket, die lichter und das Cafe Central

This morning the One Who Speaks Russian and I got up early (read ten-thirty), made ourselves breakfast and ventured out into the cool, crisp air of Vienna. There was sun! I spent quite some time marvelling at this, and also at all the amazing stately buildings and modern shiny ones we were walking past on our way up the main shopping street to the Ringstrasse. Our plan was to walk around there and see all the main beautiful building sights, but then we saw a shiny golden dome away from the main areas and decided to go and see what that was.

It turned out to be a beautiful classical/Art Nouveau building with a lacy, leafy metal dome, and then that led us on to the Naschtmarkt. This is a long market bounded by two main streets that goes on and on, with fruit and vegetables and spices and meat and knickknacks and antiques and scarves and chocolate shops. We got chili hot chocolates and wandered, marvelling at the range of everything (there were fruits I'd never seen before, as well as durian/jackfruit wrapped in plastic so it didn't stink up the market). I got an entire kebab for three euros, which I thought was incredibly cheap, but by this time we'd done quite a bit of walking and my lower limbs were complaining.

We retreated to the hostel for a nap and a nanowrimo session, and I played with the lockers in our room and giggled (these lockers are amazing. They have inch-depth buttons that poke out, and if you push them in they just come out again and the locker doesn't lock. If you push the button with your key card between the button and your thumb, however, the RFID chip inside the key card does something and THE LOCKER LOCKS. These lockers have been sent back from THE FUTURE).

When it got dark we ventured out again, and saw a vintage tram trundling along that needed a picture taken of it. It looked like it belonged in a museum, but it was happily carrying people and advertisements on the main line alongside the modern ones. We took the U-Bahn Underground train to the centre of the Ringstrasse to meet The One Who Speaks Russian's friend, and walked past amazing buildings and fairy lights and three sets of horses and buggies, complete with old-fashioned lamps in the carriages and drivers with top hats. We then scrutinized the coffee houses and decided on one which was once frequented by Lenin, Trotsky and Freud - the Cafe Central.

It was an absolutely beautiful place to have coffee, with marble pillars curving up to meet each other at the ceiling, incredible cakes and a grand piano. i got a black coffee which was very smooth and not at all bitter, and some sort of hazelnut cream slice with a reproduction of Klimt's The Kiss on top of it. The One Who Speaks Russian was very impressed with her chocolate creme brulee torte thing, and we had a nice few hours sitting in this beautiful cafe, listening to the pianist (who played a song the Hopeful Gardener enjoys playing, and made me a bit homesick) and pretending to be sophisticated Viennese.

Back at the hostel, we listened to the live band in the hostel's bar and planned our day tomorrow. I should probably get some sleep so that I can make the most of it...


Vienna Day 1: the flight

I've opened up my blogging app on my ipad to see a note saying 'There are fairy lights on the bridges! There should ALWAYS be fairy lights on the bridges!' True. There should always be fairy lights on the bridges over the Thames. I'm pretty sure I made that note as I was taking the train home after work, through the autumn evening darkness. They haven't yet turned on the Christmas lights in the main streets, but they're all up, ready and waiting. This year the sponsor of the Oxford Street lights is Marmite, so there are Marmite-themed displays.

Right at this moment I'm sitting in the middle seat of an aeroplane row (I was seemingly the last one to choose my seats, because there were no window or aisle seats available whatsoever) on my way to Vienna. It'll be dark outside soon, anyway, so not much to see. My air cast has not exploded, as I thought it might (I realised this just as we were trundling along the runway in the half-hour traffic jam for one of Heathrow's two runways, when it was too late to get the deflator out of the overhead locker and deflate it). I was hoping to be able to walk around with a normal shoe, but I thought I'd take the air cast/moon boot just in case. I've got my normal shoe as well, which took me a good while to find, considering I haven't worn it in six weeks and it had given up and fallen down inside my wardrobe.

I hope to have many interesting things to report over the coming days... Right now I should be cracking on with NaNoWriMo, which I am now over halfway with! I'm still not entirely sure I know what's happening, but all should become clear. I've also fallen back into my normal writing pattern - write until I get bored and it's dragging, switch to a different part of the book, and then come back to the first part later. I think this is probably good, because I often don't actually need the bit I was stuck on.

The Vienna airport is very new and impressive, with futuristic arrivals board that are part of the walls. I caught a bus right into town and went past lots and lots of lights, but it's hard to figure out what buildings are when you only see the lights. Now I've found my way to the hostel after wandering for ages round the railway station, and I'm really looking forward to bed...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Spending Vast Sums of Money (2) and NaNoWriMo

I've just got my tickets to New Zealand. I spent about four hours staring at different websites, ringing different travel agents to get them to explain their terms and conditions and then telling them that, no, I didn't want to book over the phone (I'm paranoid they'll spell my name wrong and tick aisle seat instead of window seat, and then I'll have to change EVERYTHING and these things are costly to change) but at last I clicked the final button and took the plunge and poured lots of money into the mouth of the travel beast.

It is stressful clicking that last button. Double checking dates and times (what if I've booked for 2014? What THEN? Oh, you mean you can only book a year in advance? Okay, then. But what if it's SEPTEMBER not February?), card numbers, spelling of names (obviously I might have spelled my name wrong. Or given a different name. Or just put 'Name' instead of my actual name. I did that once), trusting that this is a reputable website and most of the reviews I've spent the last hour trawling are okay, or at least acceptable. And then screen-printing pages in two different ways to prove I've seen the confirmation and can brandish it in people's faces if anyone dares to suggest otherwise.

I'm not paranoid, am I?

Thirty-six hours each way. It doesn't matter when you leave or when you arrive, because time doesn't really have a meaning anymore. You're not on London time, and you're not yet on NZ time. It's a long grey limbo of the body-clock.

I suppose it does kind of matter when I arrive for people who want to meet me at the airport. They're nice arrivals times, don't worry.

My plan for today was to get all my NaNoWriMo done by midday, which of course didn't happen. I was a bit behind until yesterday, but I caught up and am back on track. I'm not using Scrivener, because I found out that, if your computer crashes, the Scrivener index file corrupts and you can't use it anymore. I decided that, with my usual inability to turn my laptop off for weeks, it wasn't worth the possibility that all my extra notes and pretty structure would become unusable if the computer crashed. So I'm back to MS Word, which is kind of strange after so long using Scrivener.

Writing so much and rationing my time is strange. Normally, I must read over what I've written quite often, because I'm not really doing that now and I feel like I'm writing blind. This is funny, considering that this time I have actually done a bit of planning and I know where the story is going, whereas last time I did NaNoWriMo I had absolutely no idea. I'm enjoying it though, and getting to know characters that I hadn't realised were so interesting. I think I may have built some rather large plot holes into my plot, however, so there's a bit of work needed to fill them in.

Have a good week!