The Danube: Vienna

IMG_20170523_181735Wednesday, the 24th of May, I returned to the Danube River. Hütteldorf was a cute village, with a very old church just outside the Youth Hostel, but I was ready for the big city. After packing, I rolled easily down the side streets and along the bike paths by the Wien River from Hütteldorf to the Favoriten district in the southern part of Vienna. IMG_20170523_184003

I had made a reservation at the modern A&T Holiday Hostel, because it was close (4 km) to the JUFA Hotel where the University of Illinois Chamber Singers would be staying. I was glad to be there in any case.

A&T Hostel

Not only did the Hostel have clean, well-maintained facilities and amenities, there were supermarkets nearby. I also learned the quickest route to the historic Inner Stadt by bicycle. Vienna has the best-marked and densest bicycle network of any city that I have ridden in so far.

I had reason to be glad that I still had 9 GB/month on my phone plan from Italy. The internet connection was erratic at the Hostel, and essentially unavailable for the first three days. I used my phone as a hotspot to stay on top of communications. I did not want to make a lot of plans before I saw Daniel, but I did look at the maps and guidebook material that evening.

Thursday morning, Daniel’s plan landed at 0825. He sent me a text from the airport. The tour operators arranged for the group to take a tour of the city all day until check in. I rode to the main train station, the Hauptbanhof, which happened to have a shopping mall in it. I found the Bikeline maps of the Donau Radweg that I never arrived in Formia before I left, as well as a bike shop with lots of parts and (more important) answers to all my questions.

Vienna radkarte

The Tourist Bureau downstairs in the station was manned by an incredibly competent young woman. She helped me figure out that the Vienna City Pass would not be cost-effective, because I rated a bigger discount as a senior, and I did not need the included public transit pass. When she heard that I had a bicycle, she whipped out a 2017 Radkarte which had all the latest bicycle facilities in the city in it. I love Vienna!

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There is music and art everywhere in this city. In one 18-hour period, I rode past four different brass bands entertaining the public in parks or gardens.

After riding around for a while to get the lay of the land, I rode to the JUFA Wien City South to catch the Chamber Singers and Daniel. They arrived about 1700, jet-lagged but also excited to be on the road at last. I joined them for dinner (a buffet at the hotelJUFA lobby.jpg). After dinner, Daniel and some of the others used their new transit passes to go to the Schönnbrunner Palace (not far from Hütteldorf), where they could watch the Vienna Philharmonic’s Annual Free Concert, featuring Renée Fleming singing arias by Dvorak and Rachmaninoff. The older singers and I moved out to the lobby, where the receptionist turned off the sports programming and news on the big screen TV’s, and brought up the concert. Not being jet-lagged, I was alone by the time the final credits came on. I rode back to my hostel on quiet streets and tucked in for the night.

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Daniel was in rehearsals at the University on Friday, so I  headed for the Inner Stadt to take in some museums. I had planned to visit the Albertina and the Leopold Museums, but I spent over three hours in the Kunst Historische Museum (KHM), the National Art History Museum. The building was impressive enough, across the Maria Theresa Platz from the Natural History Museum and at right angles to the Museumquartier. The KHM was built to gather three major Imperial collections in one place.

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St. Ignatius by Albrecht Durer

As a result, it offered the most complete view of Flemish and German painters that I have ever seen in one place. No one was missing. While other collections might have one to six pieces by Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Gerrit Dou, Durer, van Eyck or Weyden, the KHM had a room for each artist.

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A large part of the collection was gathered by Emperor Rudolph II. There is an old saw that when the aristocracy put porn on the wall, it becomes art. Almost all Rudolph’s pieces were nudes. Mmmm.

I also visited the Imperial coin collection. That sounds rather dull, but I did not know that Maria Theresa and her children passed out commemorative medals so often that the Imperial Mint moved to the forefront of coin and money-making technology early on.

DSCN3675On the top floor, there was a special exhibition on “The Hapsburgs in North Africa.” The main feature of the collection was a series of scenes of the capture of Tunis by Charles V. The Emperor hoped for some serious PR from the campaign, so he brought along his court painter, Jan Cornelius Vermeyen. With his sketch book, Vermeyen may have been a precursor to the modern combat photographer. I was impressed by the cartoons that Vermeyen painted. I had known that tapestry weavers used cartoons by skilled painters to make the tapestries that warmed the walls of old castles and palaces, and made places like Bayeux famous. However, I did not realize before what complete works of art they were: the word “cartoon” threw me off.

DSCN3663I stopped by the Michaelerplatz to check out the church where the Choral Bridge concert would play on Saturday night.

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“Choral Bridges” was the name of the joint exchange between the University of Vienna and the University of Illinois chamber ensembles. Saint Michael’s is a beautiful Baroque church, built near the palace complex to serve the Imperial Staff. The Imperial family used the Augustine Church nearby. Both churches have full calendars of musical events. The Augustine Church even had (classical?) karaoke on the schedule.

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The singers had dinner with their hosts. I ate at a hot dog stand on Vienna upscale shopping street, the Seilergasse, then rode back to the hostel.

DSCN3690Saturday, I had a lunch meeting in the MuseumQuartier with Dagmar Jenner, one of my favourite colleagues from ATA. The Austrian half of Twin Translations (with sister Judy in Nevada), Dagmar has lived in Vienna for many years and is president of the Austrian translators’ professional association, Universitas. I learned many interesting things from her, and I wish that we had had all afternoon or more.

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Roman excavations below Michaelerplatz

I should not have made plans to meet Daniel after lunch. As it was, he got out early, and waited for a while. Then the jetlag caught up with him. He went back to the hotel for a nap. I enjoyed the classical music on the street by a pair of young buskers. DSCN3717They played the usual tourist favourites, with original arrangements that made them fresh. I almost did not recognize Pachebel’s Canon in D. By the time Daniel woke up, it was too late to climb the bell tower of Saint Stephen’s. I rode to the JUFA Hotel, and we took the metro together to the Michaelplatz. Daniel went into warmup sessions at the Church, and I had supper at a Tuscan restaurant, L’asino che ride, around the corner.

DSCN3667The concert at 2030 was worth the ride to Vienna from Formia, and the EUR 20 admission. A full program of Britten and Haydn. I recognized most of the pieces. The orchestra and soloists were graduate students of the University School of Music. The chamber ensembles together formed a powerful chorus.

The musicians had another catered dinner together. I rode back to my hostel and turned in after setting up a translation that had come in during the day.

DSCN3711Sunday, I donned my Camino de Santiago pilgrim bike kit and rode out to Kloster Neuberg, 20 km upstream from Vienna. The Choral Bridges group was providing the music for the 1100 Missa Cantata at the famous Abbey. They sang the Maria Theresa Mass by Haydn, which had been the second half of the concert the night before. In the Abbey, it became a completely new piece. The church had resounding acoustics and a reverb that matched the great cathedrals of England. The celebrant could sing, and he did his parts in the traditional manner. I have been moved deeply by sung liturgies often enough in my life, but the total power and beauty of this mass ranked up there with the most important ones. DSCN3699The prayers, readings and responses were in German, but I responded quietly in Latin, feeling perfectly comfortable doing so in the musical context.

While the singers went to lunch and a tour of the Abbey, I rode back to the City. I joined Daniel and some friends for the Donaukanal Fest, a street party on the banks of the Danube Canal downtown. I left the “youngsters” about midnight.

IMG_20170527_151941On Monday, Daniel had workshops and master classes until mid afternoon. I rode to the Cooperative Bike Store, which the people at the Hauptbanhof had recommended. They had everything! But instead of selling me a new bracket for the phone, the mechanic (one of six) went to his stash of parts, and found a new bolt to fix my old one. I have never seen a store with the entire line Schwalbe tyres on the wall. Serious about their cycling, these people.

DSCN3740When Daniel got out, I rode downtown. We climbed the tower of Saint Stephen’s together. Daniel went out with friends for dinner; I returned to the hostel to work.

Tuesday morning, the University of Illinois Chamber Singers boarded the bus for Budapest and the rest of their two-week tour. I rode down to the JUFA Hotel to see them off and give Daniel a farewell hug. I decided to stay an extra day to turn around the translation early and do laundry while waiting out a rainy day.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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