Monday, December 17, 2007

Logbook: Vienna II -- Jennifer, Opus 2

Viennaii1My niece Jennifer and I have had another great week together on The Voyage here in Vienna. Although our time together was somewhat hampered by inclement weather, we really made the most of it. On the particularly bad weather days we explored indoor spaces like the fine arts museum pictured here. Truly one of the most astonishing buildings you will ever enter, it's hard to say which is more impressive, the structure or the collection. As she posed for this picture on the grand staircase, Jennifer said, "It's good to be the empress!" Indeed! The rest of the museums and indoor places we visited -- like Mozart's apartments, the House of Music, the Spanish Riding Academy, etc. -- paled a bit by comparison, but we had fun checking them out anyway. To say that there is a lot of art and culture in Vienna is an understatement of epic proportion. You are literally surrounded by it and it is fun just to walk around and take in the sights.

Viennaii2On decent weather days we did outdoor exploration, including visiting soaring Stephansplatz, historical Hofburg and stunning Schonbrunn Palace. Vienna has an excellent transit system that makes covering a lot of ground fast and easy, and Jennifer did her customary job of dominating it. We had "weekly passes" which gave us access to every mode of transportation from subways to streetcars and buses, and we really got our money's worth. One of my favorite excursions was our "Beethoven Day" when we traipsed all over the city to visit some of the master's many domiciles during his time in Vienna. Some of the sites were a little lame, but our finale at his grave was a real highlight and gave me the opportunity to pay my respects to yet another of my personal heroes.

Viennaii3Similar to our time in Paris last summer, we didn't always explore together but we always regrouped for dinner together in the evenings. It would be hard to say that the food in Vienna is great because it seems to consist mostly of meat and potatoes, but it is all edible and satisfying if not very interesting. We had our share of ordering -- or thinking we were ordering -- one thing and getting another, but we just laughed it off and found a way to get by. My friend Matt joined us for a couple of dinners and his local knowledge of places to eat plus fluent German really improved our culinary experience. Not the least of the enhancements to our experience that he was able to provide us were some amazing chocolate desserts that Jennifer somehow forced herself to eat in a true sense of exploration. Way to take one for the team, Jennifer!

Viennaii4Another highlight of our week was "international day" when we took an hour long train ride to nearby Bratislava, Slovakia. My intention was that Jennifer would be able to experience as I have both the routine nature of crossing borders in Europe and the surprising differences between neighboring cultures. It worked perfectly. With worldly, magnificent Vienna fresh in her mind, we rolled into Bratislava with its very different, former Soviet feeling. Instead of being surrounded by countless grand marble buildings, we were amidst standard issue concrete construction. In place of the hustle and bustle of Viennese crowds, we were practically alone on the streets. I mean no disrespect to Bratislava -- it is a wonderful little city of which I am very fond -- but it is so vastly different from nearby Vienna that one really gets a different perspective that I was glad Jennifer got to experience. After a lengthy walk around town we made our way into the old town square where we stuffed ourselves with tasty sausage sandwiches followed by a massacre at a chocolate shop. Once again, Jennifer did her duty and suffered through it in the name of exploration.

Viennaii5If you look at the photo log, you will see a pretty good representation of all the exploration -- and eating -- we did this past week, but I'm afraid you won't see the best part of our time together: the many lengthy and lively conversations we had on a wide variety of topics. Jennifer will be embarrassed that I'm writing this in public, but she has such a bright mind, keen insights and a brave approach to the unknown that she is a delight to be with. She is an extremely good traveler and a fine co-explorer. I think this photo of her waiting for the metro to take her back to the airport speaks volumes. We had such a great time together that I think we were both a little sad it was over. One moment that particularly touched me was when she said, "Being on The Voyage with you is the best. I can't believe more people haven't done it!" Thanks for that, Jennifer, I feel the same about being with you. You are welcome back anytime.

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