Florence Diaries: An Imperial Experience

Vienna: The Imperial City

I did something wild this weekend, something which required courage, bravery, and even a little bit of insanity: I travelled completely alone. I know, this isn't some sort of revolutionary experience that no one has ever done before, but for me it was leaps and bounds out of my comfort zone. I'm a bit of a wimp but I enjoy facing my fears, hence the reason I went. Well, that and I was determined to see Vienna this semester. It may seem trivial and commonplace but it was huge for me. It was at once terrifying and exhilarating, mostly the former but just as soon turning into the latter. I'm used to doing things on my own, but considering how invariably awkward I am it can always be a bit strange. Yet this weekend worked out wonderfully and I fell in love with Vienna, seeing much more than would have likely been possible had I been with a group. It may sound silly and I may look back at this in years with idle amusement, but it's the first time I've really felt adult-like, fully. I'm not sure yet if I like it... I'll have to let you know. 

On Saturday I set out to see as much of Vienna as I possibly could in one day -- lo and behold I did not stop going from 10am to 11pm, walking criss cross all over the city. I started at the Schönbrunn Palace (a UNESCO world heritage site and a home to the famous Hapsburg family), where I did a tour inside the palace, then walked the grounds of the gardens behind, stopping at the Palmenhaus, a beautiful 19th century greenhouse. I then headed to the Vienna Opera House, snapped some pictures of the building, then grabbed some lunch at Plachuttas Gasthaus our Oper. After lunch, I had to try the world famous Sacher-Torte at Sacher Cafe, a delicious slice of chocolate cake with apricot jam, the recipe which has been kept secret since its invention in 1832. I then walked through Museums Quartier, passing by the Albertina, Museum of National History, through the Volkspark, and stopping into the National Library. I passed the Parliament Building, the Town Hall, the Imperial Palace, and St. Stephens Cathedral, then walked along Kohlmarkt Street (a luxury shopping area). I walked across town to the Belvedere Palace, stopping by Karlskirche (St Charles Church) on the route. The Belvedere was a beautiful museum and I spent some time wandering the Upper Belvedere, including some time with the famous painting The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Next, I went across town again to the Prater Park, which boasts the oldest Ferris wheel in the world. I finally headed back to the area of St. Stephens, rested a bit in a coffee shop, then it was off to dinner -- I had a reservation at 8 for At Eight! It was a delicious meal and a great ending to a hectic but wonderful day. All in all, according to my Tripomatic app, I visited 21 sites, even if only briefly! Not too bad considering I only had a day!

On Sunday morning I attended a performance of the Spanish Riding School. It was by far one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life, no exaggeration. I sat in awe and watched as these incredible stallions pirouetted, piaffed, leaped, and reared across unarguably the most beautiful riding ring in the world. Maybe it's because I've been riding since I was five years old, because I've taken dressage lessons, that I know the difficulty of riding a horse, let alone convincing the horse to listen to your every movement and breath. The strength and precision I witnessed were unparalleled. One of the stallions could rear up onto his back two legs and hop forward, landing still on those two back legs, all while holding a rider. Another leapt diagonally up through the air, kicking it's back legs straight behind it, face to the ceiling. I often caught myself leaning forward in my seat, mouth open, eyes wide, whispering "holy shit, how in the world." Words cannot begin to do justice to the experience. The riding school celebrates its 450th year this June -- it has kept the tradition of classical riding alive since the Renaissance. The movements and exercises are a living piece of cultural history, persisting through wars, changes of government, ups and downs in economy, and globalization. Seeing the riding school was high on my bucket list and it met my every expectation three times over. 
After the performance, I took the underground back to my hotel, collected my things, and headed off to the airport. I absolutely loved Vienna and I cannot wait to return, hopefully someday soon. It was full of so many beautiful details, friendly people, great food, and a wonderful atmosphere.

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