Unexpected Art and Friends in Vienna

Saturday morning Clara and West headed back to St. Stephen’s Cathedral to ascend the spire steps and descend into the depths of its catacombs. Meanwhile, Tawny and I set out to explore nearby Karlskirche. We had a few hours to kill before meeting with our high school friend Kudra who moved to Vienna years ago to pursue her acting career.

We bought a ticket to enter Karlskirche not really knowing what we were buying a ticket for. We followed a sign upstairs to see a small and uninspired display of religious artifacts. As we walked back down in disappointment we pondered asking for our money back. But then we noticed a door to the main church. Upon entering we were surprised to see two gigantic orbs suspended from the ceiling. It was an unexpected art display with a small queue waiting for an elevator to take you into the dome of the church to see the paintings on the ceiling up close as well as view the orbs from above. It was a very cool and impressive art exhibit.

As we exited the church we heard from Kudra and made arrangements to meet at St. Stephens where Clara and West already were. Once together we headed to Naschmarkt for lunch and to catch up on old times. It was a gloriously sunny and warm day. It seemed the whole city sprung from hibernation and the city buzzed with frühlingsgefühle. The market was packed and we took our time at lunch with a pint or two as we reminisced about old times and passed on the latest news of mutual friends.

After lunch, we connected Clara and West with Kudra’s daughter Ella who toured them around the city and introduced them to her friends. Meanwhile, instead of touring the typical sites of Vienna (Schönbrunn Palace, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, or the Giant Ferris Wheel, we opted instead to head to the Austrian countryside and the small village where Kudra lives to see her home and meet her husband Marcello. We enjoyed their company with a glass of wine (or two…or three) and an excellent dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant – Der Grieche.

Somehow through all that time together we neglected to get a picture of us all together. But I did get a picture of their cute snaggle-toothed cat and their tireless dog.

It was great seeing Kudra, meeting Marcello, and having Ella show Clara and West around the city. But it had been a long day and Marcello graciously offered to take us back to Vienna and drop us at our hotel. “Where are you staying?” We told him Hotel Imperial. When he drove us to that neighborhood and I pointed to the hotel he commented, “I thought you were kidding. That’s where all the rich and famous stay when they visit Vienna!”.

The next morning we had a few more hours to kill before heading to the train station for our 4.5-hour journey to Prague. While Clara and West went to see the orbs of Karlskirche, we headed to The Secession museum to see Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven FriezeIt was impressive and beautiful. While there we also encountered some unusual and more challenging art.

After the Secession, we stopped by Aida for a piece of Viennese pastry before heading to the train station. Bussi, Baba! Vienna. Next stop Praha.

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Do Widzenia Kraków, Grüß Gott Vienna

With dwindling morning hours we wandered the cobbled streets and alleys of Kraków to bottle as much charm as we could carry (along with a painting or two) and have one last pint of piwo before heading to the airport. Do Widzenia Kraków. We’ll miss you.

After an hour delay at the Kraków airport (courtesy of Austrian Airlines) we landed safely in Vienna – Grüß Gott Vienna!. We checked into Hotel Imperial, once the summer palace for Duke Philipp of Württemberg and his wife Archduchess Maria Theresa. This is apparetly where the rich and famous (and infamous) stay when in Vienna. To our surprise we had been upgraded to a couple of suites, (the Maisonette, and the Junior Executive) each with top floor views of Karlskirche and Karlsplatz.

After settling into our luxury accomodations we headed out for dinner walking the Ringstraße side streets looking for someplace to eat. After failing to get into several restaurants (for lack of reservations) we settled on a simple local brewpub where we could get a good schnitzel. If in Seattle you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Starbucks, in Vienna you can’t throw a cobble without hitting a schnitzel.

After dinner we wound through back streets and alleyways past black tie receptions and art openings in grand buildings with even grander façades until we happened upon the grandest of all – St. Stephen’s Cathedral . Although it was late the church was still open so we went inside and found an stunning art exhibit by Peter Baldinger called Sky of Stones. It was the first of several art exhibits we’d stumble upon in our short weekend in Vienna.

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A Sexy Hotel & Paul’s Boutique: Berlin Day 1

I had been to Prague and Vienna in the early 1990s, as well as Berlin and Krakow in 2000. I had always wanted return and to take my family there. And so, we decided to take Clara’s two-week spring break in Eastern Europe as a family (with West, Clara’s boyfriend joining us). Our itinerary included Berlin, Krakow, Vienna, Prague, and short stayover in Reykjavík on our return home.

Berlin received us before noon, courtesy of Icelandair‘s early arrival. It was a sunny Saturday morning and although we were exhausted from the long flight, we were excited to start exploring the city.

A taxi wound us through the streets of Berlin to the hotel Provocateur, where we found our rooms would not be ready until after three-o-clock. A shower and change of clothes from our trip would have to wait. The helpful hotel staff pointed us towards nearby Kurfürstendamm, the local shopping district. Shopping sounded fun so we headed off in that direction to find stores and something for lunch. Unfortunately, Kurfüerstendamm disappointed us for shopping since most stores were either large multi-national chains or luxury goods which held little interest for treasure hunters like us. We steered off  off the beaten path of polished boulevards and lavish window displays and wove ourselves up and down side streets in search of a more authentic Berliner experience.

We stumbled across a quaint little restaurant filled with local pensioners called Café Maitre Munch. It proved our first taste of Berliner food to be a win (although the green and overly sweet Berliner Weisse was far too much for our taste).

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After lunch, we headed back to our hotel to shower and change. Our rooms were ready and better yet we had been given an “upgrade”. We picked this hotel because it was part of the Marriott collection and had booked it through the Marriott website. Perhaps we should have looked more closely at the Provocateur’s website first. While the hotel was certainly small and intimate…that intimacy took on new meaning as we found it was listed as a “sensual” hotel. We entered our red velvet ensconced rooms and were greeted by ample mirrors, erotic art books, the latest German edition of Playboy (they still print full nudes in Playboy Germany BTW), unmentionables availabe in the mini-bar, and a switch on the wall for something called “Provocateur mode”. Of course when we discovered that we had to flip it on.  The lights automatically dimmed, some sexy music came from hidden speakers in the walls, and then artsy black and white risqué moving images were projected upon the wall from a hidden source in the wall. We laughed it off, but with two seventeen-year-olds traveling with parents, it was….awkward…

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As soon as we could differentiate our blushes from our velvet curtains, we caught an über to trendy Prenzlauer Berg to visit Paul’s Boutique (not Paul’s Boutique) – a major mission for our Berlin itinerary. It did not disappoint. Paul’s was an overwhelming assault of visual stimulation and vintage picking which helped fend off our mounting jet lag.

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After a few prized purchases at Paul’s we headed down the street of hipster bars, beergardens, cafes, and vintage boutiques in search of more treasures. We found OYE – a record store on our list of places to visit. It proved fruitful in producing a dozen or so 7″ 45 rpm vinyls for our new juke box back home. As we strolled the streets looking for somplace to eat we came across a seemingly abandoned photo booth sitting in front of a large empty lot on the edge of the neighborhood. Clara and West did a photo session.

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We topped off a rather long day (which started on Friday morning in Seattle and it was now 7pm in Berlin on Saturday) with a traditional German meal of beer, pretzels, schnitzel, and stuffed peppers at a beer garden called Georgbraeu Brauhaus we found near Alexandererplatz before nodding asleep in an über on our way back to the velvet couches and curtains of the Provacateur for a much needed sleep.

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