Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Week in Vienna, Austria

I enjoyed a magical week in Vienna - for work! I learned all about visual diplomacy: how to take great photos and videos for our work doing public diplomacy in embassies. (Plus, M came along for the ride. This work trip was the whole reason we were able to drop by Bratislava and Brno, too.)

We happened to be there during two major events: Pride Month and the World Cup. Although we missed the big Pride Parade planned the day after we left, we did get to see cool crosswalk signals like the one above. There were variations all around the city of a man and a woman, a man and a man, and a woman and a woman. As for the World Cup, there were plenty of places to stay on top of the games and enjoy the company of fellow fans. It seemed like every restaurant, bar, and cafe had set up at least one screen to attract hordes of soccer - uh, I mean, football - loving customers.

Vienna had more parks than I remembered from my last (albeit very short) visit there, and our tour guide mentioned 50% of the city's area is actually green space. The rose garden was in full bloom, and after I finished each day's training we spent hours walking around the beautiful city.

We felt very safe in Vienna, even when walking by ourselves late at night. Ultimately, we were glad we did walk at night to catch the beautiful views of lit historic buildings...

...and, even better, to enjoy a free, live screening of Der Freischütz right outside the Vienna State Opera. It was so cool that they made this (normally extremely expensive) performance available to the public at no charge, so everyone could have a chance to enjoy the arts and culture for which Vienna is so well-known. You could tell the Austrians were proud of their cultural heritage and happy to share it. Not-so-subtle hints of Klimt, Mozart, and more were everywhere.

Speaking of culture, we highly recommend the Haus der Musik, an interactive museum of history, music, science, and sound. We went after dinner to score cheaper night tickets, and they were well worth it. I learned a lot, such as the fact that pocket violins (pictured below) once existed and were a suave way to show off your talents in social situations. We also used a music generator to make monstrous cacophonies with our names, which were hilarious. We were mind-blown by the Shepard scale, an "auditory illusion" that can make you think you're hearing a scale that progresses forever. (You can learn more about that and listen to it yourself here and here.) There was something in the museum for so many: classical music lovers, Viennese history buffs, technology enthusiasts, and more. We stayed right up until the building closed.

Of course, we ate a lot. Really, a lot. I think we ate even more in Austria than we did in Australia (which is saying something).We both had the classic Wiener Schnitzel at the famous Figlmüller. M then proceeded to order the exact same dish pretty much every day for the rest of our time in Vienna.

My coworkers also insisted we try Sacher-Torte, a classic chocolate cake with apricot jam, served with unsweetened whipped cream. It was a little dry by modern tastes, but it was delightful with a hot drink alongside it.

We also enjoyed cheap street food, including the very tasty Käsekrainer (cheese filled sausage). My Austrian friend shared that those street sausages are a late-night lifesaver for drunk locals heading home after a great night out on the town.

I also tried a dumpling/pasta dish I'd never heard of before: nockerl. Mine was cheesy and topped with sinfully delicious fried onions. It tasted like a cross between gnocchi and mac-and-cheese, and it was amazing.

We also swung by the Naschmarkt, a street market recommended by a colleague, just to check it out one afternoon. It had so much more than we expected, including everything from Asian restaurants to African spices to an insane amount of European cheeses.

I do doubt, though, that it would be described as a "street market" in most of the developing world, as most of the "stalls" were actually well-established and very stationary shops or restaurants.

On our last day, we finally found time to take a free walking tour, which was excellent. We learned about Austria's painful history, including on our stop at this memorial of a Jewish man forced to scrub the city streets with a small brush as a form of hard labor and humiliation.

On the same tour, we also heard uplifting stories that make Austrians proud. For example, we learned that St. Stephen's Cathedral is not only a signature landmark but a vibrant heritage site and a witness to many notable people and events throughout the region's history.

At the end of the day, as a deep lover of classical music, my favorite thing we did during our time off in Vienna was attend a classical concert: a string quartet playing Mozart and Haydn in an intimate local church (the first photo of this post. How cool is that? (We booked our concert here, but there are actually a few vendors selling tickets to concerts like these in Vienna.) I've had this stuck in my head ever since.

We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend a week in this wonderful place. It went by so fast! Although we didn't get a chance to explore the rest of Austria, we can now attest from personal experience that Vienna alone has plenty to keep travelers busy. Too much even, to fit in just one week!

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