Guest Post: What… no Brahms?!

Written by Konstantine-George Athanasios Karras:

I’ve just spent three days in Vienna, Austria and must confess I am severely disappointed in the Viennese people. It’s certainly not because of their lively and clean city filled with beautiful public buildings and pleasant squares, palaces and coffee shops and musical venues. No. It’s certainly not due to the denizens themselves who are polite and cultured to an extraordinary degree. The reason for my well-placed ire is the Austrian capital’s almost complete lack of honoring one of their most famous and beloved (admittedly adopted) sons: Johannes Brahms.
This is the City of Mozart. Now I’m the first to admit that Wolfgang is no musical slouch and only a mad, uncultured lout would think his music anything but a noise close to musical perfection, but jeeze!—after walking around the city a couple of days you’d think there was only one classical composer in all the world. Wolfie is everywhere… and I mean everywhere. His likeness graces candy boxes, liqueurs, (he’s got his own brands), refrigerator door magnets, posters, store-fronts… he’s got his own venue across the straße from the city’s grandiose opera house where his minions are dressed in the lacy, periwig-donned, white-hosed attire of 18th C. court musicians who stand on the street corners and squares throughout the city peddling programs for his nightly concerts. I’m frankly surprised that his mug was not displayed on a package of “Die Zauberflöte”-brand prophylactics in the local pharmacy! C’mon, Viennese… where’s your sense of fair play?
Only by the most assiduous planning and painstaking preparations was I able to uncover two meager traces of my beloved Johannes in this, the City of Music. The evidence of him can be seen a little ways east of the city center in the humungous Zentralfriedhof, Wien’s main cemetery. It was to that sprawling boneyard that I had to travel to see evidence of his earthly remains. They are buried under a simple yet graceful monument in section 32A (plot #26) of the cemetery in an admittedly honored spot. He shares the distinction with fellow dead musical alums Beethoven, Strauss, and Schubert, although I’m forced to admit Wolfie, who heavens-to-betsy, cannot be forgotten, has insinuated himself in the area with a monument placed in the center of it all, even though the marker has no body laying beneath—it’s interred elsewhere.

I'm very excited to be within 6 feet of his moldering body!

I’m very excited to be within 6 feet of his moldering body!

The only other place Brahms is to be publicly seen (if one is to discount the little corner given him in a room of the Haydn Museum on the Haydngasse, is his statue located within the leafy environs of the Resselpark, one of the main parks of the city. It sits beneath a pleasant canopy of trees and the stone effigy of Hans looks out solemnly onto the roaring traffic of the Karlsplatz. After gazing at it adoringly for several moments I thought the sculptor captured the rather gruff and earthy composer quite perfectly, although the overall attitude of his stocky body seems as if he is about to rise from his seat and change the channel on his TV set because his remote is broken.

"Scheisse! Another Mozart program. Now I haf to get up and change der channel."

“Scheisse! Another Mozart program. Now I haf to get up and change der channel.”

So, my simple message to the Viennese is: more Brahms!

Vienna, Day 2

Last night we went to a concert at the Karlskirche to hear Mozart’s Requiem. The tickets were Kosta’s birthday present, and we were both excited.

Not a shabby place for a concert.

Not a shabby place for a concert.

 

The music was outstanding and the choir amazing. The only bad thing about the concert was the wooden pews specially designed for back torture to keep you from falling asleep in church. Kosta was as transported as I’ve ever seen him.

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Interior of the Karlskirche

This morning started with breakfast at the hotel, which was wonderful and Austrian: meats and cheeses, fresh rolls, boiled eggs, and coffee with hot milk. It was delicious.

We decided to go to Schonnbrun  (the summer palace of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Emperors), which is about 6 km outside of town. Fortunately, there is an U-Bahnn stop right there. I was checking these details at the front desk when Kosta found me. He couldn’t find his driver’s license or his credit card. In a panic, we rushed back to the room and tore everything apart looking for them. We were trying to rack our brains, was there anyone who bumped into him the day before?  Was he pickpocketed?

I was just about to call the credit card company to cancel his card when the bastard put his hand in his pants pocket and drew out the very cards we were seeking. I wanted to throttle him, my heart was pounding in the back of my throat. At least all turned out well… my husband may be an asshat, but a sweet one.

We did take the U-Bahn out to Schonnbrun finally, and by the time we got there the lines to get into the palace were very long (over an hour wait), so we just walked the palace gardens instead and it was a delightful way to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon. It was still cloudy and a bit drippy from the storm from the night before, but it didn’t really rain in earnest.  We saw the Crown Prince Garden, the “Roman Ruin,” the Obelisk fountain, and we made the trek up to the top of the hill to the Gloriette, which has a spectacular view of all Vienna from the top.

Neptune fountain

Neptune fountain

 

Schonnbrun Palace and all of Vienna at our feet.

Schonnbrun Palace and all of Vienna at our feet.

 

Kosta and the labyrinth.

Kosta and the labyrinth.

After we took a turn in the labyrinth we headed back to town. We spent part of the afternoon partaking in a great Viennese tradition: afternoon coffee. We went to the famous Sacher Cafe at the Sacher hotel and had Einspänner coffees (espresso topped with whipped cream) and the supremely chocolate Sacher torte. It was delightful–ritzy without being intimidating, and touristy, but we are tourists, so who cares?

Cafe Sacher

Cafe Sacher

Sacher torte: chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, chocolate ganache, and, of course, whipped cream.

Sacher torte: chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, chocolate ganache, and, of course, whipped cream.

 

Einspaenner Kaffe.

Einspaenner Kaffe.

We then found our way back to St. Stephen’s cathedral and took the guided tour of the crypt, which was hella awesome. No pictures were allowed, but we did see the urns which held the internal organs of generations of Hapsburg emperors, a mass grave of plague victims, and an ossurary–a room of stacked bones of hundreds of years of Viennese citizens. It was creepy and glorious, and I am so glad we did it. We were the last ones out.

St. Stephen's Cathedra

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Our "crypt keeper" guide at the end of the tour.

Our “crypt keeper” guide at the end of the tour.

We rested a bit back at the hotel before we went in search of beers and dinner. The beers we had at the 1516 Brewing Company, along with some very peppery beef jerky. Then we wandered the back streets until we came upon an adorable restaurant/cafe called Frauenhuber. We had an authentic dinner (Schweinschnitzel for me and Beef cutlet with onions for Kosta) followed by Mozart Kaffe (coffee with a chocolate-marzipan liqueur and whipped cream). To. Die. For. The cucumbers in my mixed salad tasted just how my grandmother used to make them : with vinegar, onion, and sugar.

1516 Brewing Company

1516 Brewing Company

Cafe Frauenhuber

Cafe Frauenhuber

Mozart Kaffe

Mozart Kaffe

When we were presented with the check we were given a small brochure that talked about the restaurant. Apparently we walked ass backwards into the oldest coffee house in Vienna, where both Mozart and Beethoven had performed! Very exciting for my music-nut husband.

After dinner we had a stroll through the twilight, enjoying the delicious breeze and gazing in shop windows. It was a perfect day. Tomorrow, we leave early, pick up a rental car at the airport, and drive cross county to Salzburg. More pictures soon!

Vienna

So. The one thing Austrians don’t believe in is air conditioning.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world but living in Florida has left me living at a specific standard of comfort. It wasn’t terrible. It was warm today, and we do have a fan in our hotel room so sleeping was comfortable. But Lord, the Hofburg Palace was hot today. I nearly perished from the lack of water.

Our day started this morning with breakfast of coffee and apfel strudel on the Stephensplatz. From there the first major site we hit was the cemetery. Might be strange for some of you, but my husband had a very big X to cross off on his “Burial Bucket List”: Johannes Brahms.

Johannes Brahms and KAK.

Johannes Brahms and KAK.

The cemetery was full of decomposing composers: Ludwig von Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Franz Schubert, just to name a few. But my husband’s favorite has always been Brahms. We bought flowers to leave at his grave and it was lovely.

Afterwards we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral and walked around the city center. The sun was starting to heat up and as we passed a store selling Omega watches we saw this sign:

Omega Museum

Omega Museum. Excuse the drunk expression. He wasn’t. Really.

It wasn’t a big museum, but it did have displays of Omega watches from the past, including the ones that went to the moon with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Well, and they had air conditioning. It was a neat little place. But since we didn’t have between €3000-25,000 to drop on a watch, we left empty-handed.

In the afternoon we went to the Hofburg Palace and saw the Royal Apartments and the Sissi Museum. Sissi, in case you didn’t know, was the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 1800s. She was reportedly beautiful, sweet, and adored by her people. This was where I nearly passed out from the heat in those close rooms. Had I been wearing a corset necessary to fit into her ball gowns, I most definitely would have done so.

Afterwards we wandered. And as we were wandering by the Michaelskirchke we heard organ music coming from within. So we popped inside the blessedly cool interior and had a free music concert as the organist practiced. It was lovely.

This was my view. I know, hideous, right?

This was my view. I know, hideous, right?

Beyond that we just wandered. We wandered into a small shop that sold prints of watercolors of Vienna and bought two. The shop owner and her husband painted them themselves. Even though it was early, we found dinner:

Smoked salmons and scalloped potatoes for me.

Smoked salmon and scalloped potatoes for me.

 

Wiener Schnitzel for Kosta.

Wiener Schnitzel for Kosta.

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And beer for us both.

Walking back to the hotel, we saw this guy playing a fucking broom:

I don't know how he managed it, but he was good.

I don’t know how he managed it, but he was good.

Tonight: Mozart’s Requiem at the Karlskirche. Tomorrow? Who can say…

 

 

ZING!

ZING ZING ZING went my heartstrings.

ZING ZING ZING went my heartstrings.

Vacation is 27 days away and plans are really starting to come together. Every day, every few hours or so, I get a zing of excitement surge through me. Here is what the plan is:

  • Leave 30 June for Vienna and arrive on 1 July. We will spend the 1-3 July  in the city, soaking up the atmosphere, drinking coffee and sampling pastry.
  • 4 July we will collect an rental car and drive from Vienna to Salzburg, stopping in little towns that tickle our fancies along the way.
  • 5-6 of July will be spent in Salzburg and the environs. Kosta is wildly excited about visiting Hohenwerfen where there is a medieval castle that was featured in his very favorite movie: Where Eagles Dare.
  • 7 July will take us by train to Munich where we will meet our dear friends Danielle and Sylvain, who live in France. We will spend the night in Munich, perhaps drink a little beer.
  • 8-12 July will be touring Bavaria. I booked a darling Airbnb in the little village of Bad Windsheim. We’ll be making day trips from there to places like Linderhof Palace, perhaps Oberammergau, Garmische Partenkirchen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Wurzburg, Nuremburg and others. We haven’t made a hard plan for this and I am kind of excited to see where we go.

    Isn't Bad Windsheim adorable?

    Isn’t Bad Windsheim adorable?

  • 13 July we fly from Munich to Paris and then take the train to the Vendee where our French friends live. We will stay with them for about a week and have fun with the whole family.
  • 22 July we take the train to Paris and check into a hotel near Les Halles and a short walk to the Louvre. We plan to spend the whole next day at the museum and then fly home the next day on the 24th.

As my dear friend Danielle would say, “Roll on, June 30!”

Vacation Countdown…

countdownThe plane tickets were purchased on Friday. We leave in 96 days.

I’ve been making a rough outline of where we will be going and what we will be doing in the three weeks we will be abroad. Here is the rundown so far:

  • Leave from Miami on Saturday, July 2.
  • Arrive in Paris in Sunday, July 3. Take the train to Nantes or La Roche sur Yon and meet up with one of my besties, Danielle and her family.
  • Hang out on the west coast of France for five days, visit Puy du Fou, a French theme park, and definitely take an overnight trip to Mont St. Michel, which I have been dying to see for years.
  • Take the train (or a cheap flight) to Frankfurt where we will pick up a rental car and drive south into Bavaria
  • rothenburg-ob-der-tauberSpend four days driving through the picturesque towns and drinking lots of beer, see Rothenburg ab der Tauber, Neuschwanstein, Hohenwerfen, and lots of other amazing medieval sites.
  • Arrive in Salzburg. Spend two days seeing the sights. Do my Maria von Trapp impression on the mountain top.
  • Drive across Austria for a few days, taking in the splendor of the Alps.
  • viennaArrive in Vienna, drop off rental car, and spend the last few days of vacation tramping about the city, seeing the legacies of so many famous composers, drink lots of coffee and eat lots of pastries.
  • Fly back to Miami on July 22. Arrive home on July 23.
  • Still have a good week to recover before going back to work.

For some of that time in Bavaria, we are hoping that our French friends will join us on our travels. We have spent time together before and get along very well. It would be our second time traveling with another couple and we’re looking forward to it.
I took two years of German in college and even though that was nearly (gasp!) twenty years ago, I still have some retention. Even so, I am working on brushing up on my language skills in a few ways. The first is using Mango Languages. mango-languages-stickyWe have this online program through my library that I can use for free. It has two units of conversational German that I can go through. I also have a book, Learn German the fast and easy way that I will be slogging through. It’s all still in my brain somewhere, I just have to find it and reignite that fire in my brain.

2 languages 1 brainI have been toying with the idea of alternating German days with French days. Although in France I will have my personal interpreter, it never hurts to know a bit of the language where you are going. I’ve taken some French too and have three levels of Pimsleur French on CD that I can go through. But can my brain live at that speed? German and French are very different, and yet I wonder how badly they will jumble in my head if I try to do both. Well, I guess there is only one way to find out.