Bend low again, night of summer stars/so near you are, sky of summer stars/pick off what he wants in the sky bowl/so near are you, summer stars/so near, strumming, strumming/so lazy and hum-strumming” – “Summer Stars”, Carl Sandburg
I began this post with a bit of poetry. Poetry elevates us, really. It was the original text messaging of literature before we figured that out on our mobiles. Say it with a poem – it’s classier.
Everything about night is poetic, from the softening of the day’s noise to a murmur, the sound of insects in the summer, and the music of performances from street artists. It goes on to the sensation that a closing curtain is being pulled over the sun, its performance done for the day, and that the stars are winking at you. There is a pleasant chill in the spring time that begs to be warded off by a hot tea or coffee which leaves one hand warmed and the other wanting.
The sun has long been set/The stars are out by twos and threes/The little birds are piping yet/Among the bushes and trees – “The Sun Has Long Been Set”, William Wordsworth
It is at dusk when it’s a perfect time to see some of Vienna’s imperious monuments. A slow, aimless wander along the pedestrianized street of Kärntner will accomplish this quite nicely. It’s a lovely walk, past stately and historic buildings. Of course, it’s quite touristy, but the crowds were thinning at this point, making it easier to walk and take pictures.
I heard the trailing garments of the Night/sweep through her marble halls!/I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light/from the celestial walls! – “Hymn to the Night”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Monument Against War & Fascism is difficult to miss on a flat square, jutting out with people enshrined in pain and unhappiness. The message is clear – war and fascism are hell. The site lies over an apartment building bombed out in an air raid in 1945. Many were killed here – a number unknown as the bodies were never pulled free from the cellar, and the monument stands as a testimony to the many lives lost during World War II. The Gate of Violence is made from Mauthausen granite – the same stones mined and carried by the people interned at the infamous concentration camp.
Across the street is the Albertina, another art mecca in Vienna. Chagall was being featured, but I was definitely out of time for visiting museums that evening – though I’m a fan of Chagall, especially the windows at Chicago’s Art Institute.
But, climbing the steps outside the Albertina yields a beautiful view over the show-stopping Staatsoper – the opera house. Walking around, it’s easy to find the twin palatial museums – Naturhistorisches and Kunsthistorisches. The sun vibrated over these buildings, casting them in shades of warm colors.
Watching the street life below, the chilly evening breeze on my face – this is what the holiday was all about. A sublime moment where I realized that so many forces had been set in motion to put me here. After all, just four years ago, my one trip abroad had been during university. I couldn’t watch Amazing Race without feeling hopelessly jealous that the world waited, and I could do nothing to get to it.
As I stood there, I thought of how I had thrown the dice at the last minute and moved to China to teach, which gave me freedom to travel and the chance to start exploring the world viscerally, instead of from the sofa. The more I learn of the world, the more I find there is to learn. There is plenty to be said for travel, and it isn’t always easy. It does take planning, saving, and time. It takes a moderate to high sense of bravery and courage, depending on where you’re going.
Whenever I get lost somewhere, I’ve nearly lost the sense of immediate panic. Sometimes it still hits – depending on where I end up lost, of course – but now it’s a familiar sensation of, “well, let’s sort this out.” It may involve asking someone for help – a necessary evil, I’ve learned. I don’t like admitting that I’m screwed when I’m lost, but, more often than not, people are kind enough to help me out. And laugh at me.
The best “I so messed this up” moment was yet to come on this holiday, though. I still had three countries to visit; opportunities for more “losted-ness” (my word – the way I personally manage to get lost) were just on the horizon. Vienna, I thought, had almost been too easy.
I suddenly remembered a particular “losted-ness” experience as I stood there by the Albertina. It happened when I was in Oxford, trying to take a bus north of town to the flat where I was living then. The driver said he’d let me know when he approached my stop, but, of course, it was dark and rainy, and he was much more concerned about the road than a university student needing to know where her stop was.
I missed the mark by several stops. Finally, I just got out, walking back in the direction I thought I needed to go. It was raining, of course, and nearly pitch black because I was so far outside town. I had no umbrella, despite the prevalent warning that one must always carry an umbrella in England. It was just one of those things that made me … cry. And cry I did, all the way back to my flat. By then, I was so wet and cold that nobody could tell I had been crying.
Have a cuppa and get over it. Perfect.
Not all those who wander are lost – Tolkien
But sometimes, you’re just plain lost. It can suck, or it can be a moment where you buck up, sort it out, and get on with it. Maybe you’ll even find something even more interesting or worth seeing in the meantime. It’s a better attitude to have – but it’s not the easiest if being lost just freaks you out. Thankfully, Google Maps work in most places, right?
Going past the Staatsoper and heading south, I found the Secession, gold-filigreed building known for such artists as Klimt (Vienna loves its Klimt), Moser, Hoffman, and Wagner. It’s a pretty sight at dusk, all white and gold and shining a bit in the dying sunlight.
What I didn’t realize, until doing a bit of research on the Secessionist movement, was that Otto Wagner had designed the buildings just along the edge of Linke Wienzeile, one of the streets running alongside the Naschmarkt (near the Kettenbrückengasse metro stop).
Those were the same buildings I had thought quite beautiful and had admired at length – after all, these were some of the first Viennese buildings I’d set eyes on my first day in the city. They’re difficult not to notice – what with green vines roping into bright pink flowers and multicolored bouquets at the top. Another building has golden feathers crowning what looks like large gold ones. There’s an Art Deco feel to the buildings, as well.
However, though the sun was now gone to bed and the night sky was as dark as spilt ink, I wanted to capture one last evening site – Stephansdom. It was easy to pop right out from the metro to see it, the dominating cathedral just sort of slaps you in the face when you exit right onto the square. It’s still very busy at night, teeming with tourists, cafe-goers, theatre-goers, and hawkers, but there’s a general calm over the bustle versus during the heck daytime.
You can almost drown in art in Vienna, and return to the surface, barely scratching it, gasping for more.