New Year’s Eve! Our home in Vienna is the Intercontinental. It’s a very nice hotel, which I got with points from the time IHG gave us a million points (about 30 or so free room nights) when we did the short film for Holiday Inn and the New York Times. The interior is a little stuffy – lots of crystal and brass but for Vienna on New Year’s Eve it feels right.
The hotel is near the Stadtpark and to the back a giant ice skating ring we can see from our rooms. It’s very close to the Ringstrasse which forms the traditional boundary for the old city. Anything inside the Ringstrasse is easily walk-able and the streets are narrow, and the buildings are three stories or more, so there is a real valley/cave effect when you walk the cobblestones.
We have a little trouble crossing because there is some kind of race/marathon completing in the cold. We are bundled up. It’s 28 F, but little wind and no precipitation. There are holiday lights everywhere, and many of the stores are closed, but cafes’ seem to be bustling. We walk toward the museum district and fall into a Christmas market with lots to eat and drink (including plenty of mulled wine and beer being consumed at 11am).
Emma’s eyes light up when we see the crepe stand and they have Banana and Nutella, her favorite crepe. As any reader of this blog knows, there aren’t many things that teen will eat. So when she sees something she will really enjoy, we try to indulge here. (Our only rule, which she has followed on every trip is she can’t complain. Many times she has eaten only plain rice or bread without complaint.) I on the other hand, dislike crepes, but find some freshly cooked potato chips that everyone likes (“salty and sweet!:, Lily says.) Amanda drinks mulled wind out of ‘a cute little boot mug!’ and I get another espresso which tastes delicious in the cold clean air.
The architecture is heavy and dominating, but it also blends together. Much of it in this area is dedicated to Franz Joseph, so I talk about him a bit. On all our trips, I try to give a short history lesson with each city or destination. Mostly I refresh my own memory of world/European history on wikipedia and give them a few sentences. Vienna has so much to discuss though, I know I’ll never get through it all. Franz Joseph is just the tip of the iceberg: Metternich, Hitler, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Haydn, Mahler, Strauss, Freud, Wittgenstein, Popper, Schrödinger, Mendel, Klimt, Schiele, Doppler, Weisenthal, Lang.
And Klimt. Our first cultural stop of the day is the Leopold museum, which houses a number of Viennese painters but a lot of Klimt and Schiele. Klimt is of course a easy hit with the girls. His style and themes of rebellion and sexuality are so accessible to the modern eye. How many dorm rooms had a Klimt print in it? Emma takes a liking to it.
The curation is nice – not too much stuff, not too little with good explanations in both English and German. The highlight and the work for which he received the most critical acclaim is here, ‘Death and Life’. It’s beautiful in person, glowing and textured in that way one can’t see in a reprint or photograph. The theme is pretty basic and surprisingly optimistic – death is always waiting, but life continues to cycle.
The surprise however is Egon Schiele. The Leopold museum has the world’s largest collection of Schiele, a prodigy painter that died very young. His expressionist work is so moving. They faces, eyes and bodies are instaltly evocative, often haunting. Emma posts on instagram ‘Egon Schiele is my boi’ with her in front of one of his works. We spend more time lookin at Schiele than Klimt. It’s a very nice surprise.
One of our more recent hobbies is street art. We’ve done tours/walks in London, Rio and Miami. Vienna has a lot of graffiti along the waterfront and in certain places, although none in the old section. They either keep it frequently repainted or strongly policed because there is very little to see. Anyway, very little of it qualifies as Street Art, most of it looks like simple tagging.
There are no tours here, but there is a ‘bridge’ that goes over an alley and connects the museum area with the neighborhood behind it that is a free form spot for street art. It including a big one commissioned by Space Invader, the French artist that does tilework that looks like a, well, you guessed it… space invaders. “I actually PLAYED Space Invaders when it was an arcade game” I tell them. “Yeah, we know dad, you tell us that every time.” There are a few other cool bits, and we search the side streets for more. Supposedly there is a Roa, one of our favorites.
But we don’t find more. Instead we break for coffee and some food. Our waitress has terrible (like toxic) body odor and our order of ‘Nachos’ turns out to be a bowl of doritos, which is the only food they are serving. Oh well. And they don’t take cards either. So many spots take only cash, we’ll need an ATM soon. The Greek ATMs that we found were incredible rip-offs – the charged 10% commissions. So we kept as little cash as possible.
It’s afternoon, and things will close soon, but I think we have time for another. I choose the Hofburg Palace, the winter palace of many rulers from the Hapsburgs to Kaiser Franz Joseph. We chat a little about the start of World War I, with his son being assassinated in Sarajevo. It’s another stunning, but heavy building. It’s rounded, with columns and a big golden bird on top, maybe an eagle?
Inside is a three part museum, Arms and Armament, musical instruments and oddly an exhibit on Ephesus. None sound thrilling, but I really want to see the insides of the palace. And it’s worth it. It’s stunning.
We walk into the Ephesus exhibit and the surrounding marble and staircases and windows and more marble are so opulent, it’s almost hard to look at the display of ancient art. We were in Ephesus just under two years ago, so some of this had context. Ephesus, on the south coast of Turkey, is one of the best preserved ancient Greek cities and is better seen in person than in a small museum exhibit.
The musical instruments and armor are expansive, especially the armor. They have tons of costume armor of course, as nothing that saw combat is very beautiful. One gets an idea of the vast numbers of different bodies and purposes. Plate armor at it’s heaviest must have been a rediculous thing to wear. Some of the armor has funny faces on it, which get giggles from Lily. We’re all a little tired and punchy.
It’s dark in Vienna at 4:30 – a reminder that we are farther north than our home in D.C. The lights of New Year’s Eve come on and the streets slowly fill with people. We head to the fabulously names Rathaus, the location of tonights fireworks and the final stop of the Sylvesetrpfad New Year’s Eve celebration that is starting in a few hours. Rathaus is a neo-gothic City Hall for Vienna built in the late 19th century. It’s amazing it wasn’t damaged in the war.
New Year’s Even in Vienna is a grand affair, with huge numbers of formal balls, opera and symphonies playing the classical greats including Die Fledermauss and Beethoven’s 9th.
Wiener. The balls require formal attire, many of them are period respectful and one has to rent costumes to match. Sadly, we chose Vienna too late in the year to get tickets to anything this grand, although we do get to do some waltzing outside.
Emma takes my hand eagerly, which touches this dad’s heart. Amanda gives it a try, and we end with our first of many year-end kisses. Lily is embarrassed, and sits on the sideline despite cajoling from all of us. Mozarts Skater’s Waltz seems to play from just about every speaker, beginning with our Austrian Airline flight yesterday, to the hotel. It sticks in my head as an ear worm as I write this!
It feels late because it got dark so early but it’s only about 6:30pm. Although we enjoyed the Austrian family-owned restaurant we went to last night, it was very heavy and limited for vegetarians. (I had spinach and cheese dumplings the size of baseballs floating in butter and then ate a fettuccine and cream sauce. It was probably 1500 calories.) Today we hit a local Chinese place and eat fairly simply. Later when we passed, the place was packed. Early was smart.
A few hours break at the hotel is welcome. We get our feet up. Amanda even gets in pajama’s and for a few moments before we go back out, there is a moment of ‘Do we really want to go back out there?’ I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Eve (Amateur night, as we alcoholics call it.) Last year we didn’t go out at all because we had just returned from Hawaii with some bad jet-lag. But of course we do. We didn’t come this far to stay in the hotel.
It’s a zoo, ha! We have to form a chain of tourists to wind our way through the Sylvesetrpfad, the street festival Vienna puts on. It’s a series of 9 stages or events playing music and street vendors selling a lot of sausages, mulled wine and of course, beer. Some of the bars open out into the street and sell, but there aren’t enough of them and Amanda can’t even get a drink, though if she were to buy a prosecco, it would cost 15 euro for a tiny glass.
The stages play music, but little of is is very good. We listen to a few DJs and watch some really bad dancing. We find a back street where we can hear the music but there are fewer crowds and do some bad dancing of our own. Emma has a signature move she calls ‘The noodle’ where she flaps her arms loosely and lets her really long hair twist and twirl. It’s hilarious.
We trudge along. The air gets colder. The lines get longer. It occurs to me that none of these people are probably Viennese. I never once went to Time Square for New years Even in ally my New York Years. Lily buys a goofy light up crown for 5 Euro, and Emma unsuccessfully searches for devil horns she saw on other people. There aren’t that many truly drunk, staggering people which surprises me.
As we approach Rathaus and weave through the crowds, it’s clear we won’t get an unobstructed view. There are a lot of trees and telephone poles. We try to get into the main area, and are literally stopped dead chest to back, shoulder to shoulder with a million other people. We decide to stay out of the central area, which might have produced a drink and a pretzel or something. We are getting really hungry since we ate that Asian food so long ago.
The insipid band gives way to a bad DJ. ‘We luuuv yoooo Vienna’ that played Michael Jackson’s Thriller among other poor choices. “What the fuck?” Lily asks. “That’s a god-damn fucking Halloween song” she says with her 14 year old sass and gratuitous swear language. But the torture doesn’t last long. The countdown ‘Ten, Nine, Eight..” was in English which was good because I would only have known “drei, zwei, eins” And it’s 2017! We’ve made it another trip around the sun. It’s only a five minute firework show with nothing spectacular. Rio was way better.
We’ve had a hard year, but everyone has really accomplished a lot. Amanda got a new job, Emma had her first job (Summer Photographer at the circus school), Lily did her biggest Shakespeare performance yet, and I made it through a very difficult work year. Amanda and I went to Borneo for our honeymoon, the girls and I spent two weeks in India. We are healthy and happy and lucky to be here. Happy New Year readers. I hope 2017 is good to you.
People that took hours to assemble, disassemble in minutes. It’s so chaotic, we can’t even see two feet in front of us, but somehow find a path through the throbbing moving crowd. Sylvesterpfad wasn’t that great, but Vienna is fun and easy. We’re all glad to be here. Eerily, a fog creeps in and settles on everything, still and soupy. The temperature drops quite a bit. It’s almost foreboding, although there are enough revelers to keep the atmosphere positive. Amanda and I are so hungry we get a little grumpy. Out of the mist a glowing oasis of shitty food appears ‘Kebab, Hot Dog Snack’ We eat a crummy felafel that tastes so good. The kids are so cold they huddle in the foyer of a nearby hotel before we walk the mile back to the warmth of the glowing hotel, with many fabulously dressed people and cocktails still being served. But we just want our warm beds.