Trip Start Aug 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Austria  ,
Sunday, October 23, 2005

On the morning of the 23rd, we woke bright and early to have breakfast in the hostel and then headed out to the Hofburg palace which was the winter residence of the Hapsburgs, the ruling family in Austria for 600 years. The Hofburg palace hosted such famous historical figures as Marie Antoinette (a descendent of the royal Hapsburg line), Napoleon during both periods of his claim of power, as well as being one of the first places a 6 year old musical icon known as Mozart would perform for a royal audience. We toured the 40 room palace with a self-guided head set tour, and viewed each ornately decorated room, ballroom, and bedroom. The palace still had original furniture used by the Hapsburgs on display as well as family portraits and personal artifacts. Our ticket also allowed us access to the palace gardens, the labyrinth, and the Gloriette which stood on a hill overlooking a pond and the whole Hofburg property. As an added bonus, our entry ticket entitled us to a free cooking show about apple strudel and of course our favorite part was actually being able to eat free warm samples of authentic apple strudel. We returned to Stephensplatz to walk around the center and find some lunch. While enjoying our food on a bench amidst the all the shopping bustle, we met a guy named Mark who I could describe in one word as: eccentric. He wore a turquoise cardigan, seemed to have glitter all over his face, and large decorative rings adorned his fingers. He instantly struck up a conversation with us since he recognized we were American preaching his disgust with the US's "Nazi run government" and how he had come to Vienna to live until the day when "America would right itself." He seemed like a nice guy if sometimes unwelcomingly social, invited us to a Green Party party, in celebration of the group's progress within the Viennese government. We said we would think about it and he left us to enjoy a few drinks at a pub at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
While walking around the center we came across a group of people dressed up in costumes one would picture Mozart and his peers wearing. They informed us that a show composing of live music featuring songs from Strauss and Mozart, opera singers and traditional Viennese dancing was taking place that night and for the rest of the week. Our little group debated on going to the show for what I thought an unnecessarily long time, until we finally all decided to buy tickets for the show that night. We went back to the hostel to change, shower and dress for the show then arrived (finally despite a few missed tram stops and wrong turns) at one of the beautiful Viennese palaces in which the show took place. The mini orchestra, opera singers, and ballet dancers were all dressed in the regal traditional clothing of Mozart and Strauss's time. My favorite part of the performance was the dancing and recognizing some of Mozart and Strauss's songs. After the show we decided to have dinner at a nearby Irish Pub called Darcy's. We were enjoying burritos and beer (all very traditional Austrian food I am told) when all of a sudden, Mark showed up. We were all surprised considering we never thought we would see him again, but those thoughts didn't stop him from coming over to sit with us and talk more about the travesty of American politics as soon as he saw us. He told us that he was a Kindergarten teacher who taught English for over 250 children in Vienna, the lead singer of his band (it was something in German about Freedom to Live or something), and was also planning to renounce his American citizenship if Bush wasn't impeached or didn't resign from office within the next two years. He read us one of the songs he wrote when he was in Rome when he found out we were studying in Florence, and also had us sign his "travel journal" which he claimed would become an internet phenomenon once he published it online. We wished him well and good luck as the bar closed and we left to head home. Our journey home was one of the funniest nights of our stay in Vienna because the cab that we chose had a driver who spoke no English and we did not have the address of our hostel or the hotel next to it. We miraculously made it home to the hostel (only by stopping at the metro station where we usually took the bus home and having the driver get out to look at the bus map with us) and we shared a few laughs and were grateful for the driver's willingness to help us despite our deep language barriers.
24th: We awoke bright and early again at 7 AM and headed to the Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral) determined to spend some quality time within the famed church. Even so early in the morning, tour groups and school fieldtrips occupied the church but we were able to walk through the whole of the church, and admire the many paintings, statues and intricate architecture through the bright morning sunlight and the beautiful colors streaming through the stained glass windows. Walking in the vast hall made me pause and take a breath at its overwhelming size and the beauty of the architecture and art. The cathedral also had catacombs running underneath it but we were unable to tour the area because one needed a tour group and previous reservations. Instead we opted to head up into the tower of the cathedral in hopes of enjoying a birds' eye view of Vienna. Instead, we suffered through 297 stone steps up a 2 foot wide spiral staircase only to arrive at the top in a mini gift shop with the tiny windows barred and blocked with scaffolding. It also didn't help that there was only one way up and down and that I got stuck in the middle of a 6th grade class who yelled back and forth to each other up all of those tortuous 297 stairs. I had Alex take a picture of me next to a window as proof that I had actually endured the climb. Thankfully the walk back down was faster and easier, but I was glad to break free of that never ending curving prison and take deep breaths of fresh air and wide spaces.
Since it was Heather's last day with us before she had to go back to Denmark, we decided to go shopping in the center, and then visit a modern art museum nearby. The modern art museum itself was a work of art with brightly colored and festive shaped pillars adorning the outside, and a terracotta floor which dipped and sloped, and an indoor rock fountain. My favorite exhibit was that of (Albert Watson) a famous photographer whose works have been featured in major fashion magazines. We dropped Heather off at the train station so she could get to the airport and catch her flight back home.
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