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Phespirit goes to Austria
Vienna     November 2001

Phespirit had for many years listed Vienna as one of the cities he would most like to visit. The wish was finally realised at the excellent Hotel Carlton Opera on a seven-nights-for-the-price-of-five offer. This three star hotel scores bonus points for its art deco trappings, its lavish breakfast buffets, its free sweets, and free Internet access terminal at reception (albeit the computer was an ancient and highly temperamental 486 with just 16MB of memory, registed to the "USS Carl Vinson, Pentagon", it all added to the charm).

Not far from the hotel are the many galleries, museums, churches, palaces, performing arts venues and political arenas which together make Vienna one of the most elegant capitals in the world. This endless succession of beautiful buildings with beautiful exhibitions inevitably becomes wearying after a few days. How much high culture can a person absorb in one week? So many pretty things to see. Especially:

  1. the Belvedere Palace, for 'Der Markt in Kairo' by Leopold Carl Müller, 1878, plus all things Klimt;
  2. the exterior of the Karlskirche, the interior of the Schottenkirche, and the Stephansdom crypt;
  3. the three works by Caravaggio [1,2,3] and one by Vermeer in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Having never experienced an opera before, Phespirit decided there would be no finer place to start than the magnificent Vienna State Opera. His reasoning was that even if he loathed the performance then at least the occasion would be something to savour. And so it was that he bought a ticket for 'Salome' by Richard Strauss and, happy surprise, found every aspect quite enjoyable. The thoughtful Austrians had even set little digital screens in front of each seat to translate the libretto into English. A nice touch.

Continuing a classical theme, Phespirit took a tram to Vienna Central Cemetery, the last resting place of many great composers. In error, he disembarked at 'Zentralfriedhof Tor 1' instead of 'Tor 2' and went running off into the wrong part of the cemetery with just twenty minutes to go before the gates would be shut. When he finally located the musicians' graves, wreathed in darkness, there were just five minutes left, but here they were: Beethoven, Schubert, Johann Strauss Jr. and Brahms, all together in adjacent plots. Phespirit considered saying a few brief words at the grave of Beethoven but then decided against it on the grounds that the entombed was ..... deaf ..... German-speaking ..... and dead.

And continuing the morbid theme: crows. There are a great many of them round Vienna. Phespirit was shocked and appalled to find a crow at the Theseus Temple in the Volksgarten drinking blood from the gored-open head of a pigeon ..... with the pigeon still alive. No-one likes to see that kind of thing. More heart-warming was the crow which flew away with a large chestnut and released it from a grand height onto the roof of a Saab in reserved parking outside the Austrian Parliament. Alas, despite the loud and echoing BANG!, there was no damage done. But the car was hastily moved.

Phespirit took short trips away from the city to Mayerling and Heiligenkreuz in the Vienna Woods for a bit of local context, plus a train journey over the border to Slovakia for a look around Bratislava, but the city of Vienna is glorious enough not to need outside diversions. Along with Venice, Prague, Ljubljana, and New York, it is probably one the five finest cities that Phespirit has visited.

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