Today was incredible.
It got off to a rocky start, if you begin with the overnight train. It was 35 minutes late, so I was standing on the cold platform til 2:00 am. I had reserved a seat to sleep in, as I was significantly the cheapest option. Weirdly, though, the seats in these trains fold out flat. They’re each in compartments of six, three across from three. When they’re all folded out, it forms on seamless mattress the size of the compartment.
This was the state I found it in when I boarded at 2:00 AM. The four people who had boarded at a previous stop had made themselves very comfortable, and in order for me and the other new passenger to get in we had to wake them up and climb over people.
The surface area is about the equivalent to an American twin sized bed, but slightly more square shaped. For six adults, it’s a snug fit. I’m just glad three of us were pretty small girls.
I don’t think I slept at all until the sun came up, but I tried my darnedest. Then, as soon as they started making loudspeaker announcements and the sunlight was streaming in, I was fast asleep between every stop.
When we arrived in Vienna (70 minutes late) I had an easy enough time finding the hostel. It was too early to check in, but I used the lobby bathroom to get dressed and put on makeup. I don’t know if the receptionist recognized me when I came back out. She seemed very surprised.
I had two things on the agenda for my one day in Vienna. I wanted to see Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, and go to an opera. Not only do I love opera… But it’s Vienna.
Operas being an evening affair, I headed off to find the Belvedere museum. Now, it takes a lot for me to forgive a museum that doesn’t offer free entry to art students. Call me spoiled, but that’s how I feel. In spite of this, the Belvedere may now be one of my favorite art museums in the world.
I just liked what they were doing with it. I didn’t spend much time in the medieval art section, but the ongoing restoration of different pieces is located on sight and you can watch it being done. That’s pretty cool.
They also have a gallery of basically “art in exile.” It features artists from (and between) WWI and WWII who were forced to relocate. I love the curatorial decision to make that grouping. It’s fascinating. I love both art and history, and in this case the two are the same. I saw a few pieces I recognized from my class on the History of Antisemitism in Art, one of the best classes I’ve ever taken… And that wasn’t even the highlight. That was just a bonus.
Bonus number two is their collection of Egon Schiele. Now, the fact that I didn’t know about this is only due to the fact that I did no research. Schiele is a very strange, figurative artist. His style was so far beyond his time. It’s amazing to look at his work and think about when it was made. He was first brought to my attention in high school by my beloved Ms. Wallerstedt. I don’t know where I would be without her.
Schiele’s relationship with preadolescent female subjects is a little dodgy and probably involved opium, but the work is still great and he painted lots of other things. Just be careful if you decide to google him. Don’t do it at work.
Finally, the Klimt. I thought he was pretty great before, but you haven’t seen anything til you’ve seen it in person. I never realized how metallic gold the gold in his work really is, and I could never imagine the effect. It is amazing. The Kiss is entrancing. My favorite painting, though, has to be Judith I. I probably looked at it for 15 minutes before I noticed the severed head she’s holding by the hair.
It’s the second Judith painting I’ve seen this week that has really stood out to me. The other is an Artemisia Gentileschi piece in the Uffizi. I actually saw a lot of her work in Italy. It consistently stopped me in my tracks, and when I would look to see who the painter was it kept being her. I don’t know why I never thought of her before. She rivals Caravaggio in my esteem now, which is a pretty big deal. She’s also amazing for what she was able to accomplish as a woman in her time.
So in the past week, my list of favorite artists has doubled. That’s pretty neat.
There were posters for another museum that looked interesting, and I thought about trying to go see that before getting in line for the opera tickets. The museum was right by the opera house, which meant I’d get a chance to check it out on the way and I’d be able to get there quickly. I didn’t have much time. I really just wanted to poke my head in.
I was planning to be in line at about 4:00. According to my research, you wanted to get there 3 hours before the start of the opera. €3 and €4 standing tickets for the performance go on sale 90 minutes prior to curtain. But, when I walked by the doors at 3:30, I noticed a few folks already camping out. Sure enough, when I asked they were there for the standing tickets. Most of these guys looked like old pros, with folding chairs and books.
I ran to grab some food, since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to leave after getting the ticket. I came back with Chinese takeaway and ate while I was in line. The old man sitting behind me was really cool. He lives in Germany, and once a year he finds a cheap flight to Vienna, stays for 4 nights, and sees all four operas running at the State Opera House at that time.
The line gets relocated at several intervals. After being outside for 30 minutes, someone came to let us move the queue indoors. It moved further indoors a little later, but I’m not sure about the timeline. Once we got inside, I passed out cold on the floor. It was a good nap, and probably much needed after last night on the train.
The standing tickets are for places at a railing, which you lean on, bu are unassigned. Since I was so near the front of the line, I got a spot at the front railing… There are a few rows. The older lady next to me apparently goes to operas all the time, and was very stressed about using a scarf (nothing else!) tied in a very specific way to mark your spot.
The opera was Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, a French revolutionary. Of course, it’s a love story, and of course it ends in death. I liked the music quite a lot after the first act, and I may have shed a tear or two at the end. For the last act (much to the horror of the lady I’d been standing next to) I commandeered a chair that I’d noticed to be empty. It worked out great. No regrets.
It was pouring down rain by the time I left. I was pretty sad to get my shoes wet again, after I’d just cleaned and dried them. A man who was walking the same way to the subway station shared his umbrella with me, but it didn’t save my feet. I should have packed my Hunters as my one pair of shoes. There wouldn’t have been a drop of rain the whole trip.
The rain mercifully ceased for the rather long walk from the subway to the hostel. I finally made it into my room. The place is a disaster. The hostel is very nice and clean, but the other girls in there are not. Their crap is everywhere. Every surface area is covered. Every bed had their stuff strewn about. It was pretty annoying. One girl was asleep when I came in. The other showed up right after me. She saw me with my towel and asked if she could use the bathroom for 10 minutes before I took a shower, which I thought would be alright.
I knew it was a bad sign when she opened the door 15 minutes in and asked for a lighter.
30 minutes later, when I finally made it in, the place smelled awful. You couldn’t even see the countertop under all the cosmetics. It smelled like she had smoked a cigarette, taken a dump, run the shower as a decoy but had actually just dumped an entire bottle of cheap perfume on her head.
The joys of shared living.
I can’t even be upset about those little quirks after an amazing day like I had. I didn’t really have expectations for Vienna, but it completely blew me away. I would love to stay longer and see more shows and museums, but I have to move on. I’m expected in Hungary. This is just a place I will have to come back to, someday. I can’t believe how blessed I am to have had this kind of chance to be here now.