It’s been a while since my passport has seen some action. Four months abroad in 2016 was followed by two years in New York, during which I traveled almost exclusively inside the US (to far off places like Nebraska and Florida). I even let my US passport expire, if you’re not shocked to hear that then you don’t know me very well. I’d dreamed up a thousand trips from Portugal to Vietnam to Cuba, but hadn’t pulled the trigger on any. It’s amazing how quickly time can pass doing quotidian things.
So I was grateful when my company sent me on a trip to Vienna for a conference. In my last blog post about Vienna I said I’d be back, maybe I didn’t know it would be for the largest European gastroenterological conference in Europe, but regardless, I was right. Given that the trip was for work and not fun, for the most part it involved the inside of a conference hall and the hotel. That said, there’s still something nice about practicing my forgotten German and using euros.
My first day in the city I fought jet lag to visit the Austrian National Library (Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek) in the center of the city. Austria’s largest library (and ‘central memory institution’ as their website says) turns 650 years old this year! And oh the things these two-story high bookshelves have seen; grand emperors, revolutions, censorship, Nazis, restitution. As your eyes trail up the seemingly endless bookcases, they light on the impressively painted central ceiling and skylight windows. The central rotunda is the grandest part of the National library, and the most photographed. It was this iconic image that caught my eye during a quick google search of highlights to see in Vienna, but truly to me the most impressive part was the architecture of the hall. Embedded stone spiral staircases lead up to a second story balcony and additional tier of bookshelves, while hidden doors within the shelves throughout reveal secret rooms. It was the perfect thing to see in a short amount of free time.
Another stop I hadn’t made during my two previous trips to Vienna was the famed Albertina Museum. Originally a palace for Count Silva-Tarouca in the 1740s and then for the Habsburg family until the early 1900s, the imposing building holds incredible works of art by Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Munch. The list goes on and on. I was fortunate to catch a special exhibition of Monet that followed his escape from debt collectors out of Paris to Normandy, Argenteuil, and of course Giverny. I also enjoyed a tour of the staterooms, a grand showing of apartments, ball rooms and studies. It never ceases to amaze me how close you are allowed to get to historical artifacts in Europe — I walked across 300 year old inlaid wooden floors in the study to come within breathing distance of a Wedgwood cabinet. If no attendant was looking guests could easily run their hands down the green silk wallpaper or across the bust of an Austrian emperor (NOTE: this is not an endorsement of that abysmal behavior, just an observation). In the US, everything would be behind glass or cordoned off with alarm sensors.
After a long afternoon of museum wandering, I made my way to Cafe Central for apfel streuselkuchen. A popular tourist spot, I had to wait about 10 minutes for a solo table, but lucked out with placement next to the grand piano. As a lovely way to end my Viennese tour, I enjoyed a glass of white wine and read quietly to the sound of local musicians Mozart and Schubert.