Hallo from Vienna! I arrived on Wednesday in the early afternoon after a not so long bus ride from Budapest. We couldn’t check in at the hostel yet, so we crammed all out stuff into the luggage closet and went on a quick bus tour of the city. We went around the “ring street,” which, surprise, makes a ring around the center of the city. We walked around a little bit of the outer ring until the rooms were ready. Since I still didn’t really know much of anyone, when the rooming list got to me I was in a bit of panic. Already overwhelmed by the group (and some of the larger personalities in the group, I turned to the seat next to me and asked the girl if I could room with her, because she seemed mellow. After unpacking our bags and introducing myself to my other two roomies for the next few days, Laura and Ally, myself and a few others from the group, Killian, Laura, Victoria, Daniella, and Sonny decided to take a walk around the monuments of the old city center. we started off by hiking to the top of one of the spires on St. Stephen’s cathedral (yes, there is another one in Vienna). We hiked 343 stairs to top top for incredible panoramic views of the city, then spent the next hours wandering the city. Without opening our maps, we managed to cover most of the notable architecture in Vienna, including the Winter Palace, the National Library, the University, a few others churches and cathedrals, some really cool statues (my personal favorite being the golden-helmed Athena), and so many buildings that we didn’t even know what they were. Many of the roofs here are roofed in what I imagine must be copper, so they tend to have a greenish tinge to their domes and spires. I can’t imagine how splendid the skyline would have looked with the original coloration of the metal present.
After taking lots and lot of photos and walking a few miles, we had worked up an appetite. Chris had mentioned earlier a film festival earlier that day, and as we followed our noses in search of sustenance, we happened to stubble upon it. This was the spot of one of my favorite meals on the trip (Vienna has amazing, amazing food in general, but this was great even for Vienna). We wondered the food vendors, mouths watering, and there was definitely no way we were going to be able to eat just one thing. Since we were in a big group, we each got one dish and then brought it back for a family style meal. We ate potstickers, schnitzel, a kind of mac and cheese, gyros, mango curry, beef stew, and so much more. After a few minutes of silence, interrupted only by “mmmmmmmms” and other guttural noises of content, we managed to drag ourselves back to the hostel for a night of sweaty sleep in the dorm rooms with four other girls. I ended up dunking my head in the sink a few times over the course of the night and managed to stay cool and sleep soundly.
The following day, we left for a sightseeing tour of Vienna on the bus. We visited the Hundertwasser House first, a residential building designed by an artist who focused mainly on designing his works with nature in mind, so the building includes no straight lines, lots of interesting colors, and integration of live plants. Afterwards, we headed up to the summer palace of the Habsburg family. We learned about Maria Theresia, the infamous leader of the royal family in the 1400s (historical reference point: she was the mother of Marie Antoinette). After the tour, a few of us beat it back to the center of the city. I had scheduled a tour of the Spanish Riding School, located at the winter palace, to see the Lipizzaner horses and their facilities. I had a few hours to kill, the Amanda, Sonny, Jo, and I headed the market street to find some lunch. After surveying the whole market, we settled on a tradition restaurant and ordered Viennese traditional coffee, schnitzel, and beef goulash (a very thick beef stew with a big dumpling in in the middle, yum!). We took a metro over to St. Stephens, then parted ways. I ventured off to the riding school and putted around until 3:00.
The tour was one of the coolest things I did in Vienna, and really made me dream about dropping of the face of the earth, moving to Vienna and trying my hand at the riding school. When I was a little girl, all of the horse crazy stable girls I hung out with dreamed about training and riding the Lipizzaner horses, so setting foot inside the stables was the closest I’ve ever come to having a fan girl moment in my life. For those of you who don’t know, the Spanish Riding School in Vienna has been around for many years, continuing the tradition of training Lipizzaner horses (a Spanish breed used as battle horses in centuries passed) to be fit for royalty riding into war. The horses are of course now only used for show, but the training received is a piece of living history. The horses (only stallions, no mares), are trained for about 14 years before they begin to be shown for the public, and practice three signature moves designed to kick enemies or shield their riders during batter. The most impressive thing to me about the riding school is the fact that the riders use no stirrups as their horses perform the equivalent of a horse ballet, complete with gravity defying leaps and sharp turns. One of the skills the horses perfect by rearing up and then hopping three to five times on their back legs. Looking at the saddles they use, I cannot imagine doing this without stirrups. The horses themselves were of course the most regal, sophisticated creatures that horses can be. Lipizzaner stallions are traditional born black or brown and over the first ten years of their lives become white haired. It was amazing to see this in practice, with horses present in all stages of the whitening process from dark bays to dappled grays to shining white faces peeking over stall doors. Imagine my excitement when we visited the practice area and I found that the riding school recently began accepting girls, and that I would have to learn German and apply quickly to meet their higher age limit of 25. It takes about 12 years for a student to be a master at training and riding these horses, and eventually they end. Up with eight horses to ride and train daily. I can’t imagine not teaching, but if I had thought about this eighteen years ago my life might have worked out a little differently. The rest of the day I walked around the city with one of my roommates, Laura. We visited more of the buildings, sometimes for the second time, and went back to the film fest for round two of deliciousness.
The next day, we crossed the border into Slovakia for a day trip, but that’s another story for another day. Stay tuned!