Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wandering Vienna: the Belvedere

  I've got a bit of free time in Vienna right now, unexpectedly, so here's a post about the wandering around Vienna I did on Wednesday (Sept. 1).  Monday and Tuesday I went in to IIASA to meet with my supervisors there.  That went very well; in fact, it appears I will be returning to Austria sometime fairly soon to continue pursuing the research I did this summer!  The precise time has not been worked out, but perhaps later this fall.  Anyhow, that's not what I'm posting about.  The point is, after my Tuesday meeting, I had a day in Vienna because it was too rainy to start my bike trip.  I started out from the northern part of Vienna, near the Donaukanal, and walked south to a beautiful church in a square called Rooseveltplatz:

  I continued southeast until I hit the ring road around central Vienna, and then circled counterclockwise. Soon I was at the Rathaus, the city hall building, which is the middle of these three photos (the other two photos being miscellaneous nearby buildings):

  Near the Rathaus is the Austrian Parliament, which is quite spiffy:

  From there it's just a hop to Maria-Theresienplatz, where a big statue of Empress Maria-Theresa of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (she of the 16 children!) is flanked by the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum:

  From there I entered a curious spot in Vienna called MuseumsQuartier:

  This is a hip area of town housed entirely, as I understand it, within what used to be the court stables.  This makes you realize what a huge production the court stables must have been, because MuseumsQuartier houses several art museums and exhibition halls, a raft of restaurants, and has large open spaces inside it.  Amazing.  My goal was a particular restaurant, Halle, which I had had dinner at the night before with some friends, and wanted to return to:

  Yum yum yum.  Makes me hungry just looking at that photo.  It is housed in a gorgeous old building with amazing plasterwork; Vienna is just littered with such buildings, and they can't all become historical landmarks and such, so they get converted into restaurants, lofts, whatever:

  Here's their menu (click to see these full size, you know the drill):

  And here's what I ordered:

  That's the Styrian omelet.  The feta cheese was interesting: softer and creamier than the feta I'm used to, like a cross between feta and goat cheese.  I'm not sure if this is a sign that I don't know what good feta cheese is like, or if it's just a local variant or whatever.  The pumpkin seed oil dressing is a typical Styrian touch (Styria being one of the states of Austria, to the south of Vienna); apparently they get a lot of pumpkins down there.  Anyhow, it was super-yummy.  It came with the typical brown bread that you get in Austria, a sour country-style bread, but I got a croissant as well.  :->

  After lunch, I walked through a nearby garden called Burggarten, where a famous statue of Mozart is to be found:

  Not being a fan of Mozart (I know, gasps of horror, I'm familiar with this reaction to my sacrilege), this was not my destination, however.  Instead, I had two other goals in mind.  One was this:

  I just can't pass up a butterfly house.  Here's some photos from it:

  The first and fourth are Morphos I think; their underwings are very different from the bright blue and black on top.  I'm not sure what the others are, I'm too rusty with my entomology.  They had some others that I did recognize (Heliconius, Mourning Cloaks, etc.) but I didn't get good photos of them.  The Morphos are fun because if you get them when they're feeding, which seems to make them very groggy, then they will happily climb onto your finger and sit there probing you with their proboscis.  I was dripping with sweat by the time I left the greenhouse; I suspect the butterflies were actually getting the salt from my sweat when they did that.  The observant will note that many of the plants in these photos are plastic, which is kind of lame; I guess keeping tropical plants alive in Vienna proved challenging, but come on, it ruins the mood.  Still, I had a fun time taking photos and enjoying the butterflies.

  OK, and now you're in suspense to know the second reason why I wandered through the Burggarten, if not to see the statue of that poseur Mozart.  It's because it's on the way to Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sachertorte:

  Their decor is quite over the top, as you can see.  I have no idea how much it costs to stay a night at the Hotel Sacher, but I'm sure it's well out of my price range.  :->  You're not supposed to take photos inside (they want you to buy their book of photos from their gift shop, a waiter explained to me), but that's one rule I always take great pleasure in breaking.  I'm sorry, but photons are free.  So the above are unauthorized spy photos!  And here's my unauthorized spy photo of my Sachertorte:

  It was good.  Not mind-blowing.  Maybe a little dry.  It's hard for me to understand exactly why it took the world by storm, but then, I'm not really a chocolate person.  Onward!

  Here is a Henry Moore sculpture in Karlsplatz:

  And here's a very nice fountain in front of a grand monument all in Cyrillic; not sure what's up with that:

  And now, after a very long walk along an interminable wall preventing me from entering the gardens I wanted to be in, I reached my actual destination for the day, inasmuch as I had a destination: the Belvedere:

  This is another old palace, now become a museum.  There's quite a large surrounding park, but I'll get to that later; just a taste for now:

  Those sphinxes were littered all over the place, they seem to have been a theme of this garden.  I headed into the museum, though:

  It's an interesting situation, the way Vienna has all these incredible old buildings everywhere.  Would they have so many museums if they didn't have so many beautiful palaces needing to be used in some way?  After all, they can't very well make them into laundromats and shopping malls; they're kind of forced to turn them into museums.  Anyhow, I started in sections of medieval art, 18th century art, etc.  These areas mostly did little for me; the one painting that did jump out for me was a piece called The Market in Cairo, by Leopold Karl Müller (1878).  Here's a detail from it:

  Not a very good photo, I'm afraid; it's another unauthorized spy photo, and they had guards patrolling vigilantly in every room, so I had to be quick.  What really impressed me about this photo was the faces; they looked incredibly human.  More real than waxworks; on the verge of breathing.  Anyhow, I've never heard of Müller before, but I liked this one a lot.

  What the Belvedere museum is known for, however, is its works by Klimt and Schiele:

  From top to bottom, that's Klimt's "The Kiss," Schiele's "Rainer-Boy," Klimt's "Judith I," and Schiele's "Death and the Maiden."  Bad photos all; the purple and green patches are reflections from the lighting.  But at least you can see some of my favorites.  It was neat being in the presence of these works that are so iconic.

  On the way out, I was struck by a painting by Thomas Ender, 1832, of the Pasterze Glacier:

  Compare that to my own photo of the same glacier:

  Interesting?  No?  OK, moving on.  Here are a few photos from the gardens around the Belvedere:

  And I'll end with a photo from later in the day, strolling around other parts of Vienna not worth blogging about:

  As I understand it, my Haller ancestors are from Germany, not Austria, but perhaps one made it down to Vienna and opened a cafe.  It didn't look like a particularly nice cafe though.  :->

  So, phew!  Another day in Vienna.  I have barely even scratched the surface of this town; the Belvedere is the first museum in Vienna I've actually gone into, and Halle is one of less than a half a dozen good restaurants I've been to here.  I'm glad I'm going to be coming back; I'd like to spend a lot more time here.  I got rather a negative impression of Vienna from living in Simmering and eating at the Schlossrestaurant for three months, but it's really a gorgeous city with a lot to offer.  Vienna, we shall meet again!

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