The International Club here at the University of Freiburg is a pretty big deal. One thing they do is host Studitours, trips around Europe, for students. I decided to join the group going to Vienna, Austria this past weekend. After the initial sticker shock (I had to pay 220 Euro up front), I started to get pretty excited about it, because I hadn’t been to Austria at all yet and didn’t know when I’d have the chance to get there on my own. Then, I started to get scared, because I didn’t know anyone else going… my friend who first suggested the trip had to drop out due to a prior commitment. Ahhh!
Luckily, everything turned out fantastically. The price ended up being way worth it (it covered transportation, hostels, and entrance to a few of the attractions we saw during the course of the weekend), I got to go to one of my favorite cities I’ve visited yet, and I met some pretty awesome people in the process!
(A few of them are Canadians who go to York University in Toronto. I worked with a few Yorkies last summer, and because of this I know their whole fight song. Turns out York students are normally not very school spirited so I actually knew more of the chant than they did… I think I scared them. U U Y-U Y-U! U U Y-U Y-U!!!!)
The one bummer about this trip was the long bus ride. We left at about 7:30 PM on Wednesday night (Thursday was a holiday) and got to Vienna at about 6 the next morning; on the way back we did about the same thing. This is a horrible time for a bus ride, but at least we didn’t waste 24 hours of daylight in a bus.
Some of the highlights of the trip: a walking tour of the city, a (very touristy and probably overpriced) Mozart concert in the hall where young Wolfgang gave his first concert at age 6, Donauinselfest, authentic Wienerschnitzel, Mozart’s grave, a tour of Schönbrunn palace and gardens, Sachentorte at a Viennese coffeehouse, the Austrian National Library, and several delicious Radlers.
The city itself was beautiful, albeit a bit under construction at the present. Of all the cities I’ve seen, it seems to be the most architecturally “together”, if that makes sense… all the buildings have this majestic, imperial feel to them, not just the ones who were actually once imperial. The Opera House was gorgeous, as expected, the palaces (the Hofburg especially) and the “ring” of current government buildings were imposing and grandiose, and the cobblestone streets are filled with horse-drawn carriages.
My first night there, Thursday, some of us decided to try to go to the Opera. Looking back, I think we may have been duped into believing that there weren’t any standing-room tickets left, so we ended up going to a string quartet concert performing pieces by Mozart and Strauss. It was great nonetheless, and a good alternative to the planned amusement-park activity, since it rained the whole evening.
The Schönbrunn tour Friday morning was great. It was smaller than some of the other palaces I’ve been to, but what I really loved about it was how authentically the rooms were decorated and displayed. We were also entertained by this hilarious Asian tourist family who insisted on taking pictures, which was strictly forbidden, and hence got chewed out by the guards several times, responding each time, “I just learned! I just learned!” The gardens were really beautiful, too, and my new friend Ashley and I also ventured up to the top of the Gloriette, a huge arch built by Maria Theresia during her reign, to take in the view and take some goofy pictures.
During some down-time, I decided to walk around a bit by myself, which is always one of my favorite things about traveling… just seeing where the city takes me. I ended up in St. Stephan’s Cathedral, thinking I could catch a 6 PM Mass, only to find that the schedule had been changed because of an ordination! I just happened to walk in right during the laying on of hands, which was pretty awesome. I came back like an hour later just to see the church and caught the end of the Mass, so I was able to see all the new priests processing out and greeting their well-wishers. It was incredible. And the church itself was beautiful.
Friday night, we attended Donauinselfest, a GINORMOUS music festival on the island in the middle of the Danube River (hence the name). I don’t think any of us expected it to be such a big deal. From the information I’d been given about the festival beforehand, I was just expecting some sort of reggae concert. Which would have been cool. But when we got there, we discovered that it was, in fact, a huge deal, with more than 20 stages and carnival food of every sort and SO MANY PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. When I picked up a program and started flipping through it, one of the band names was familiar… Train. I love Train. I have loved train since I was like 10 years old. At first I was like, “Nooo, no way are they here at this random music festival in Vienna,” but decided to go over to Stage 6 anyway. We got there right in time to hear the announcers introduce the next “Grammy award winning” band (at which point I realized that it actually was the correct band) and for me to go completely crazy because they played one of my favorite songs as their opener. I may have scared some of the completely nonchalant Austrians around me. But that’s ok because I got to see Train live. FOR FREE. And I got to hear Pat Monahan try to speak German to the crowd. So awesome.
On Saturday, I went with a few girls from our group to the Austrian National Library, which really was a highlight of my entire trip to Europe. It was absolutely beautiful, and the museum exhibit set up inside, which details the history of the Austrian Empire, was awesome. I really can’t explain what made it so cool. So don’t take my word for it, you should totally go yourself if you ever get the chance.
Mozart’s grave was quite anticlimactic, but walking through such an old cemetery was certainly thought-provoking. The way I see it, the deaths of the people buried there cease to be sad, but rather historic; the overgrown vegetation throughout gave it kind of a romantic, “Secret Garden” type look, too. Seeing the grave triggered some thoughts about the course of history, too–the fact that it’s even possible that a man whom we now regard as a genius was penniless at the time of his death and thrown in a mass pauper’s grave, and now we have to guess whereabouts he was probably buried in order to honor him.
We ended the trip on a tasty note–first, at a Viennese coffee house (not overhyped at all!!! SO AWESOME) partaking in their trademark chocolate cake, Sachertorte, and then dinner: Wienerschnitzel as big as your face. Quite delicious, if I do say so myself.
This was my one of my last big trips during my time in Europe. Kind of bittersweet–but overall I absolutely loved my time in Vienna. I’m in Freiburg for the next 2 weekends, which, frankly, I am stoked about! Tonight I’m headed to a bonfire/barbecue in honor of the Feast of St. John the Baptist (which was a few days ago… but whatevs!) and tomorrow I’m celebrating Canada Day!