Somehow, when we peeped out our window, it seemed we woke up in Vienna on New Year’s Eve when the moon from the eve of NYE was still high in the sky.
Luckily, we looked down the dock and saw the sun rising to chase it away.
As we left the Baldur that morning, Boris (our activities director) advised us that he had “bad news”: we’d get an extra two hours in Vienna. How is that bad news? Well, with that announcement, we knew that the river level would not allow us to sail all the way to Budapest. Depending upon what happened throughout the day, we’d either stay docked in Vienna or–if we were lucky–sail to Komarom and then bus in to Budapest. Boris wanted us to get to Komarom for two reasons: 1) if we didn’t, it would be a “logistical nightmare” (his words!) and 2) it’s his hometown (on the Slovakian side of the river).
So, we set off on the bus fully bundled for a wickedly cold day excited for two extra hours to hang in Vienna on NYE but with fingers crossed that we’d be sailing later that day.
The crisp winter chill of the air combined with blue skies to create simply lovely back drops for the uniformly gorgeous buildings of Vienna–each one looked like a palace.
I had never really thought much about Vienna (even though I studied a ton of Freud in grad school and used to listen to Ultravox) so was completely surprised by how truly extraordinary the city was. The first part of our tour was from the bus, thus the windows and passengers in some shots as we zipped down various Strasse, including the famous Ringstrasse.
Bundled up in the bus:
In the distance below, you can see a ferris wheel, sort of the ur-London Eye. It’s been in place since 1896 (!) when it was opened to commemorate Emperor Franz Joseph’s 50th Jubilee. Bet you didn’t know that.
I wish I could say I remembered what each of those buildings were. I can say with certainty that the last one is a theater showing The Force Awakens 🙂 We drove past museums, universities, seats of government, academies, cathedrals, theaters, and more. Uniformly gorgeous.
Eventually the bus stopped and we were ready as only Upstaters are!
We crossed into the courtyard of the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace built in the 14th C and currently home to museums, the famous Lippizaner stallions, and the President of Austria–who, according to our guide is a very down-to-earth guy who regularly rides the trams and metro.
Here are the stables–we saw one horse booty, but that was it.
We moved into the center of the city, surrounded by more beauty, including this one!
And, these two!
Our tour guide pointed out one of his favorite Viennese coffee shops, located just outside the right side of the frame. We made note of it.
Man, the Romans got everywhere back in the day. Ruins from Holy Roman Empire encampments dating back to the 1st century (you read that right) have been uncovered in Vienna. The juxtaposition between the ornate buildings rising above them and the rough ruins was cool, and it served as a life size diorama to show how each conquering civilization basically builds on top of the remains of the previous one. History comes to life! We were chilly in our Lands End/Eddie Bauer layers. I cannot even imagine how tough the Romans were to push this far north and hold onto the territory for so long; I had the same thought when Ned and I visited Hadrian’s Wall years ago. (By the way, that’s the coffee shop in the distance. It does not date from the 1st C, thankfully.) Vienna’s new year markets filled the city center, and you can some stalls lining the wall behind the ruins.
Our guide led us through the pedestrian malls of Vienna, classic European mixed-use with small shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and offices topped by apartments. And, because Vienna, everything looks a billion times better than it needs to–lots of attention to architectural detail and shops filled with clothes and shoes that are Euro-stylin’, and candy and confections that appear way to pretty to eat.
Like every city, Vienna has its own St. Stephen’s Cathedral. This one has an intricate tiled roof that set it apart. Here’s where our guide left us to run and explore the city on our own. The bus would be coming back mid afternoon, but if we wanted to stay later, we just needed to get back to the boat by 5:30. We opted for the latter and got instructions on how to take the metro back to the Baldur.
At this point, we were a bit cold and completely starving! After unsuccessfully trying to get seats at a nearby coffee shop, we happened upon an American-style diner. Did you say “diner”? Oh, we were in! And, it turned out, we were the only Americans there–always a good sign. Chicken fingers, brats, sweet and sour ketchup, and mirrors etched with naked women … just like in the states. It was delicious! We agreed that sweet and sour ketchup was the real MVP.
Earlier, I mentioned the NYE markets. Many of them had a similar theme: pigs! I wrote about our marzipan pigs and the European tradition of good luck pigs for the new year. I did not mention that Harper LOVES pigs. In fact, one of her nicknames around our house is Lil’ Pork Chop. She has a pig travel pillow, calendar, onesie, and more. So, gotta say it: she was in hog heaven!
We bought little good luck pigs, a pig lamp, small multicolored glass pigs, pig magnets. Oh, I also bought a fantastic Swiss Alps themed Swatch, complete with a cow bell. As far as I know, no pigs were harmed in the making of this watch.
We decided not to take this passage, which certainly led to the Austrian Tardis.
Instead, we retraced our steps to Cafe Griensteidl to spend part of the afternoon as the Viennese do: over coffee, cocoa, and tortes. Our table had a lovely view–both outside and inside. The bemused looks on Harper’s and Penn’s faces were caused by a very cute toddler whose energy level was about 100x that of her father. Behind them, you can see the case of tortes–very helpful!
As you can tell, we were incredibly disappointed by our selections 🙂 Now filled with sugar and caffeine, we overestimated our ability to navigate our own way to Belvedere Palace, now a museum that’s home to a stunning collection of Gustav Klimt paintings, including the Kiss. Even some assistance from a very kind young man in the metro station (who directed us to the tram) left us a bit befuddled. So, we grabbed a taxi instead.
Belvedere Palace is really two palaces: an upper and a lower. Because rich people have too much money–as in, “Ahoy, hoy, I’ll be napping at the lower palace.”
In between are extensive gardens, walkways, and a hedge maze (which the kids ran through to burn off energy). The palace is on a hill, so standing near the upper BP, you get an amazing view of Vienna stretched out before you.
When it’s not winter, there would also be fountains.
When it is winter, there is a snowman.
This same snowman is inside the upper palace in smaller form, along with two siblings–flanked by these two siblings.
In that same lobby is a deconstructed snowman made of fluorescent tubes of light–continuing the grand European tradition of situating very modern art in some very old settings. Love it!
Walking up the grand staircase, I paused to imagine what it must have been like to live in a place like this–all bright marble and hard surfaces, so formal and weighty, like the living room that no one actually uses unless company comes. Imagine looking out, each day, and seeing the palace stretch out on each side, glowing gold in the sunlight. And, then thinking, “I really have to build a smaller one down the hill, too.” Lovely yet more than a bit cash-crazy.
Again, some cognitive dissonance moments when modern art meets not-modern context. First, somehow Harper’s red Ivory Ella hoodie is a perfect match for these bizarrely organic vases–small and large intestines, anyone?
Then, this multi-chandeliered, 40 foot ceilinged receiving room held an installation focused on a fireplace mounted TV showing an over saturated video image of a frog, who did–in fact–ribbit. You go, Vienna!
But, let’s be real, we taxi’d over here with one goal: to see the Kiss. Klimt’s painting has been postered, mugged, puzzled, and iPhone cased to death. So, it’s easy to think you’ve seen it. Trust me: you have not. I was not prepared for how luscious, how gilded, how layered, how glowing, how colorful, how hypnotic, how purely, sensuously beautiful it was. The only other time I can remember seeing a painting that shocked me as much in real life was decades ago when Ned and I saw Van Gogh’s Irises at the Getty. For example: the woman has feet! They’re so often cut off to make this square painting a rectangle. To see them, grounding her, keeping her from falling off the cliff of stylized flowers and flowing gold ivy that seems to be both growing up from and out of her cloak. Wow! Seriously, I could have stood here for about an hour just taking it all in. They didn’t allow any photos, but I snuck one from the back of the gallery: even from this far away, you can see how the painting seems to emanate light.
Because the Belvedere knows everyone wants to “selfie” with the Kiss, they’ve made life easier by providing a room with a giant mock up of the painting. After seeing the real deal, it’s a big let down, but perfect for snapping a pic.
I don’t have a lot of Belvedere photos because almost the whole museum does not allow photos, but the exhibits were stunning. In particular, the lower Belvedere had a show that traced the lives of the female models for Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka: the paintings were amazing, the stories almost uniformly sad–most died young and penniless, living for eternity in these works of art after being discarded by the artists. Age old story. As was the opulence of the lower Belvedere. This time, the marble was mocha-colored, dark, heavy, making the interior sculpture garden feel perfectly placed under another crowded blue sky ceiling.
By the time we left the palace, evening was moving in, and the lights of downtown Vienna from our taxi presaged the NYE festivities.
St. Stephen’s pushed toward the sky with its bells tolling the NYE mass, helpfully displayed on a giant video screen in the square–next to a blue-lit stage for the show later that night.
The random wires hanging throughout the city center streets during the day sprang to life as sparkling crystals, brightening the blue black night.
One street glowed red with Klimt-ian hedonism; another seemed haunted by American spirits.
We saw polizei with uzis; couples strolling with matching NYE pig mugs filled with mulled wine; (really) amateur and (really) drunk break dancers; a DJ whose songs included the viral “Barbara Streisand” breaks; and lucky cupcakes! Everyone was on their best behavior, but then, again, it was like 6pm, with many hours to go before the clock struck midnight.
Alas, 6pm was our witching hour. We needed to be back to the boat by 6:30pm. We hopped on another eerily clean and welcoming European metro for a quick ride to the edge of town.
Our walk from the stop to the Baldur (helpfully and oh-so-clearly mapped out by VRC!) took us through a couple well-graffiti’d tunnels.
Lining the dock walkway were several hammocks and an extensive array of exercise equipment. On your game, Vienna! #CityGoals
Penn made his own parkour, as he do.
And, sidebar, if you have a lower level cabin: close your curtains when you’re changing for dinner; your window’s at street level. We boarded knowing a bit too much about some of our fellow passengers.
NYE dinner was festive! Each table received balloons with little note cards attached on which to write our New Year’s wishes. Since we had two extra, we gave them to our waiters, who took it all very seriously.
As we ate, we noticed that we were moving! So, in the morning, the Baldur might not be in Budapest, but it would be in Hungary.
There was a NYE party in the lounge after dinner, but the kids and I were way too tired after a breathtaking but long day in Vienna to ring in the new year. We crashed. Ned stayed up long enough to capture the fireworks greeting 2016 from both sides of the Danube, brightening the Baldur’s journey down the river.
Goodbye 2015! You gave us memories to last more than a few lifetimes. If 2016 is half as fun and adventuresome, it will be grand!