Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Brief Stay in Grand Vienna

Our record of our stay in Vienna is scant. Many of my photos didn't turn out, and the ones that did do not do justice to this city of grand buildings and monuments. What's more, we were there only a few days. We should have allowed more time.

It was cold in Vienna in November, and the city was just putting up its Christmas lights. Vienna has one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe, and the lighted venues added some holiday cheer.

We didn't get to the Schonbrunn Palace. Nor did we see the Lippizaner horses, though we did see their stables. I had hoped to at least catch one of their practice sessions, but the timing didn't work out.  We did, however, get to spend a lot of time in the Albertina Museum, which displayed works from Dürer to Monet and Picasso. (Dürer's "Young Hare," which I have always loved, was not on display. Because it is a fragile work on paper, it is only shown every 10 years or so.)

A highlight of our visit was a walking tour organized around the Vienna sites mentioned in The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, a book we discovered last year while in Paris. Although it is non-fiction, it is so engrossing, it reads like a novel. The book recounts the story of de Waal's relatives, the Ephrussis, a Jewish family from Vienna, and their collection of Japanese netsuke (net-ski). The story explains what happened to the family and the collection when the Nazis came to power. We were so fascinated with the book that we sought out the family tomb in Montmartre last year. So we had to take the tour in Vienna!

Among other places, we visited the building that was the Ephrussi home in Vienna. Another wealthy family occupied half of the building's lower floors, while renters inhabited the top floors. (This was in the days before elevators, so having the view from the top was not coveted!) 

The Ephrussis lived on the other side of the building, facing the street where the church is.
They occupied the lower floors, while renters lived on the top.
The tour guide pointed out a few errors that de Waal had made in writing the book. For example, he described the marble that adorned the walls of the entry. But the "marble" is actually wood painted to look like marble. The material was used not to save money, but because at the time, the faux marble was considered much more chic than real marble.

The faux marble in one entry.

People still live in half of the building, but the part where the Ephrussi family lived is now a commercial establishment. We took a look at the current lobby, which is still quite elegant.

The tour gave us an opportunity to explore much of central Vienna, and we even saw one of the last authentic coffee houses, where people can sit for hours undisturbed, huddled over coffee and a book.

By contrast, the Cafe Mozart, is a bit more touristy:

Finding the performances of the Vienna Opera sold out, we spent our last night at the Vienna Volksoper (people's opera). The Volksoper, a modern building, is where we saw Carmina Burana. We had never seen it before, and we enjoyed it immensely. It provided a fitting finale to our Vienna stay.

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