“Vienna wasn’t just a city, it was a tone that either one carries forever in one’s soul or one does not. It was the most beautiful thing in my life.” – Sandor Marai
If I had to pick one thing (or three) that I most associate with my favorite cities (so far), I’d say: for Paris, it’s cheese (and art and wine); for Florence, it’s pasta (and art and wine); and for Vienna, it’s music (and art and wine). It takes a lot for me to stray from food as a primary association (and Vienna’s food is fabulous – Wiener schnitzel, goulash, the Sacher-Torte), but I was struck by the way Vienna’s storied musical history lives on in the modern city. A smile on my face the entire time, I felt like we were floating along on Vienna’s unique melody throughout our trip last weekend, composing our very own soundtrack.
Last Tuesday night, after moving to some music, I was rubbing my sore toes and buffing the scuffs off my shoes. In anticipation of the Ball der Offiziere (Officers’ Ball) in Vienna, which has been taken place since 1926 (with a break between 1938 and 1956), S and I took Waltz lessons in Wiesbaden with a great group of friends. I say “moving to some music” because I don’t think you could call what we were doing at the beginning of class “dancing.” And I can’t blame the sore toes totally on S. I was stepping up when I should have been stepping over and back when I should have gone up. Eventually, we got it and had a great time, although at the expense of all four of our feet.
A few days later, we put our dance lesson to use in Vienna’s beautiful and historic Hofburg Palace, where I learned that the Waltz is a full contact sport. During Vienna’s ball season – yes, ball season – there are those who attend as many balls as possible, not just for the champagne, but for the dancing. We got bumped a few times. And they came fast. It was really impressive. Despite the bumping, the night was magical.
As we waltzed through the different rooms, I couldn’t help but picture the palace’s late 19th century inhabitant, Empress Sisi, wandering the halls wearing the raw veal mask that she is rumored to have slept in, with her floor length hair dipped in Cognac and egg yolks…what a girl will do in the name of beauty. With it’s chandeliered ceilings and general extravagance, the Hofburg Palace is the perfect setting for a ball, a feeling further enhanced by the fascinating and at times bizarre history of its former residents.
The next day we walked across town to the Belvedere Castle, built by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who, legend has it, was rejected from service by Louis XIV because he was short and ugly and so he came to Austria to serve the Habsburg’s. The building and grounds, modeled after the Hofburg Palace,are grand and gorgeous, but we found the real treasure to be the Klimt exhibit inside. Klimt’s The Kiss came up in in the slides of my college Art 101 seminar, but I never studied the artist in depth. The founder of the Vienna Secession, a movement that rejected and rebelled against the government’s conservatism and censorship of the time, Klimt was a leader, visionary, and incredibly talented artist. Unsurprisingly, he was also labeled a womanizer. Seeing his works in person, S and I were both blown away. His flower fields and Van Gogh-like works were formerly unknown to me and now are some of my favorites. Klimt’s Judith – a true femme fatale – captivated me with her gaze, ethereal skin and sheer clothing. Amazing. And The Kiss. I could have stood there for hours. The museum’s curators had the genius idea to place The Kiss on its own black wall. This backdrop made the gold leaf sparkle like the night sky, but the night sky in a magical dream. The sensuality of the work is striking, but even more so is the personal quality of the touch of the two figures’ hands. In Vienna, The Kiss is a ubiquitous image, printed on everything from umbrellas to cigarette lighters. It would be easy to allow these trinkets to dilute the uniqueness of the original and cause one to fail to see the real thing. That would be a huge opportunity lost. In person, it is staggeringly beautiful and has newly risen to rank among my favorite paintings.
Afterward, we had dinner at Mini, my favorite restaurant in the world (aside from Granville Moore’s in DC). I had duck on mushroom risotto with a beet sauce. It was done to perfection. S had the most amazing dish – filet mignon topped with cooked foie gras and a delicious light vegetable sauce. The food, if you can believe it’s possible, is out-shined by the spectacular service of the restaurant’s sommelier and his selection of Hungarian wines, including the best Syrah and Chardonnay that I’ve ever had. Hands down. I’d go back to Vienna just for Mini (which is exactly what I did on this trip because S and I had been once before with his family in August). If you’re in Vienna, go to Mini. You won’t regret it.
Day three in Vienna, we decided to leave for a bit. Less than an hour train ride took us to the beautiful city of Bratislava. Being my first trip to Eastern Europe, I expected to see depressed and decrepit buildings – remnants of the city’s communist past. While it was evident upon arrival that the city lacked the affluence of Vienna (overly obvious statement that can be said for many cities), the old town held such charm and enthusiasm to receive visitors. We had a delicious (and very inexpensive) meal of goulash, dumplings, pierogies, and house-brewed beer at a place called Pivovar and then wandered the pleasant Old Town before hopping the train back to Vienna to get ready for the opera!
Tosca! I now understand the draw of the opera. The singing, as well as the story, brought tears to my eyes in the second and third acts. The entire experience, from the box seats gifted to us by S’s parents for Christmas, to the music, to the Wiener Staatsoper’s gorgeous architecture, was unforgettable.
On our final day, we took one last peak at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and then it was back to our “normal” life in Mainz. Our group of friends has taken to saying that we get home from a vacation to continue our vacation. We are truly blessed with this life and are enjoying every minute. Thank you for reading!