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Vienna – the Fourth

Today was just simply great. It was simple; it was great. I’ve been trying to find some way of adjudicating my day using big words and long-winded sentences, but really, that defeats the entire purpose.

This morning started off with a bang. And a crash, a few scrapes, and one or two “thuds.” One of my roommates is not exactly quiet when it comes to rifling through his stuff at seven in the morning, and by “rifling” I mean “throwing his backpack against the floor, table, walls, window, and most likely the ceiling”. Needless to say, I was solidly awake by the time he finished, and ready to greet the brand new day with a smile on my face!

If you know me, you know exactly what kind of animal dropped that last steaming pile of words.

Let’s try this again:

It’s 6:10 and my watch is going off; oh joy. I had some trouble sleeping last night (does laying in bed wide awake for three hour sound fun?) so with the 6:10 alarm I’ve gotten exactly four hours and fifty minutes of sleep. My rule in these situations is that [(if hours unconscious < 6) then (the world = not worth it right now)]. This applies to the fact that I was planning on exercising this morning, which is the exact reason why I was in bed at ten o'clock – so I could up at 6:10, work out, and have my day.

Well that's not happening folks, sorry.

It's 7:00 and the civil war between my roommate, Jason, and his luggage has begun; from the sounds of it, both sides are taking heavy losses. My other roommate, Taylor, is gone, probably to forage some food from whatever the breakfast situation is downstairs. I roll over to try and block out the sound of battle, but my precious sleep has already been claimed as a casualty of war.

It's now 7:20 and the war has just been won by Jason; to celebrate, he threw a parade, out the door, with his laptop and a new outfit claimed from the enemy. I'm celebrating by turning on the little lamp over my bed to try and motivate myself into waking up. Baby steps, people.

It's 7:35 and I am crawling out of bed; after changing clothes and drinking some precious water, I continue working until Taylor comes back from the hunt and announces that breakfast consists of “yogurt, bread, jam, and some other stuff but no ham and no cheese.”

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An interlude: In the short time I've been over here, I've had some sort of bread (be it a roll, croissant, or some other lump of baked dough) with cheese (generally swiss) and sliced meat (generally ham) **every** single morning, and I'm really starting to like that habit. It's tasty, generally cheap, and has carbs, dairy and protein.

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With the idea of food having been established in my mind, I head downstairs to find that there is a smörgåsbord of urprisingly decent food considering this is a cheap hostel – to begin with I see that there are both plates and bowls, which means that there are at least two types of food. Further down the line I see gigantic punch bowls (for lack of a better descriptor) full of yogurt, strawberry jam, packets of butter, packets of liver spread (some people are into that), curds, and finally, orange slices; around the corner on the tables facing me are coffee, tea, and hot chocolate jugs, and across the gap are baskets and baskets of bread. As an added bonus, behind the bread table are containers of cornflakes and milk.

Let's do this. I begin by stocking up with every tool they have to offer – tray, plate, bowl, knife, spoon – and begin with the yogurt. I love yogurt. One of my favorite tv characters loves yogurt (Michael Westin from Burn Notice). Everybody should love yogurt. ANYWAY, this being some weird-looking yogurt that I have never tried before, naturally I filled up the entire bowl. Now, I should quickly describe these bowls – when I say “bowl” you're probably thinkin something along the lines of “something mostly round that-” but let me stop you right there. Height-wise, the rim of the bowl is maybe an inch and a half above the bottom; seriously, this piece of glass is only a bowl by nature of the fact that it would mke an even worse plate. So when I say that I filled up my bowl with yogurt, I mean I took maybe a spoonful and a half. Moving on from there, in anticipation of the bread to come I grabbed a few packets of butter, with an experimental liver spread packet just for kicks, got a mug with hot water and a mint teabag, and metaphorically dove into the bread baskets. One basket was full of white bread, while the ther one had pumpkin, multi-grain, and basic brown bread; there was a tray of some sort of weird pastry thing; and again, natrally I took one.

And this is when I was hit with the lunchroom dilemma. You know that little game that you play when you walk into a cafeteria and you try and decide where to sit, who to sit by, who looks friendly, who looks like they're going to eat you, etc etc etc? Well that game gets even more interesting when have the hostelling equivalent of the UN to choose from, in a strange country with strange people; not knowing who spoke what language, or who used what customs, I divebombed the last empty table and began to eat my yogurt.

Now I'm sitting here eating this yogurt (which is excellent, by the way) and watching the comings and goings of the arbitrary UN Council on Cafeteria Dynamics, when I see this American couple that I sort-of maybe had half a conversation with.

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Definition: “Sort-of maybe half a conversation”
A period of time where dialogue exists between two parties, but nothing important gets said. Generally takes place before introductions are made.

e.g., I'm standing at the check-in counter yesterday, waiting for the luggage room key, when Mr. American (a moderately tall, black-haired bespectacled boy probably about the same age as myself) approached the counter to check in and also asked if they could break a fifty-euro bill. The clerk said, “No, sorry, I don't have any change” which is a whole lot nicer than “Well I did have enough, but that jerk standing next to you waiting for the luggage room key payed with a hundred-euro bill and cleaned me out.” For the record, you can tell when an ATM is on it's period because it only spits out the largest bills it can find – you would think it would be consistant, but so far I have gotten my money out in only tens, only twentys, and a few mixtures of things, but this last one just spit out a solid hundred-Euro note. This wouldn't be so bad if I was buying something pricey, but I'm on a student budget – my biggest expense besides lodging is the 5 Euro that I'll spend on my next meal, and who wouldn't feel like a jerk in that situation?

Anyway, so he obviously needed some change so I enacted the half-dialogue:

“Hey, you need change?” Restatement of the obvious in a feeble attempt to break the ice.
“…Yeah” Recognition that indeed, you did just state the obvious; but wait, who the heck are you anyway and why do you want to know?
“I can do that actually; it's sort of my fault since I'm the guy that just took all her change.”
Insert feeble smile from the clerk.
“Oh great, thanks!”
Insert me smiling awkwardly at Ms. American standing behind me.

Yup. That was exciting.

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So I see this couple getting their food, and as they finish up I sort of half-wave (I don't think we need to define what that means) to try and get tehir attention. You know, nothing major, since I don't want to seem to desperate; but I'm not always so great at subtlty, and for some reason they didn't what really turned out to just be me looking like I was partially epileptic.

I love body language. Time to break out the bg guns – eye contact. So now in the midst of the UN Council of Food Consumption theres this American boy with his eyes locked on this couple and his eyebrows doing what can only be described as the funky chicken dance. Don't pretend you've never done that either. Eventually they saw that my table had lots of empty seats with one of them filled by someone who wouldn't eat them (see above note on the lunchroom game) and one simultaneous “Wouldyouliketositcanwejoinyouhere?” later, they sat down to eat.

At this point it would be typical to do introductions, but me being me I had to get cornflakes. Seriously. So I ran to go get another “bowl” and on my to get some milk I notice that in the refrigerated shelf where they're advertising soda and orange juice, they also had plates of salami and cheese for sale; not only was that exactly wht I was looking for, but 1,40 for six pieces of salami and five pieces of cheese isn't bad at all. So I dropped off my mound of corn flakes, ran upstairs to get a 2-Euro piece, ran back, bought the plate, and settled down to properly meet my compatriots.

Of course I was a little nervous about this – not because I don't feel comfortable meeting new people, I truly love it – but because they could turn out to be “my group” for the duration of my stay here, and hence my sanity is invested in this.

However, sometimes the ice breaks itself in these situations; for example, there's nothing quite like coming back to the table and hearing “I swear, Harry Potter **was** in our room last night” to really just set your mind at ease.

I'm going to enjoy these people's company, even if only for breakfast.

So there I am, standing with a quizzical look on my face, when Mr. American turns to me and just says, “Well he was!”

To which, of course, the only proper reply is, “Well it sounds like magic was happening.”

Yes, the delegates from America are just that awesome.

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Over the course of breakfast, I learned that the Americans have names (Andrew and Rachel) and that they, too, are on a gap year – but unlike me they are using this year to study Spanish at a university in Granada. More specifically, Andrew is on a complete gap year, and has been already accepted and confirmed at Tufts; and Rachel is going to use the credit from her studies to transfer in as a Sophomore at the always popular TBD University (I was considering going there for most of my junior year). Both are originally from Chicago; both love music. Ironic because the last time I was in Chicago was for an orchestra competition, but it's always great to meet other musicians. Andrew plays the piano (pretty well, from what I gather) and Rachel sings (although she has tried her hand at various instruments, including the bassoon). This whole conversation came up from the question, “What are your plans for the day?” to which they responded, “We were going to see the Mozart House and then the Music Museum. What are yours?” to which I in turn responded to with a quizzical look (I'm good at that) and a “Oh, you must like music” (I'm also excellent at stating the obvious as well, in case that was not already…..obvious……damn it).

My plans for the day, as they stand now, are to see Schonbrunn Palace, a supposedly very beautiful sight that is the top of the tourist to-do list in Vienna. I invited them to come with me, but you know how musicians can be. Anyway, we discussed our individual plans for the rest of the week (and just so my mother knows, I have planned out what I am doing each day, when I am leaving, the subway route, my walking path, and the operating hours and admission at each venue I plan on visiting); but it turns out that these two are heading to Prague on Wednesday and now I am very tempted to scrap the aforementioned plan that took most of last night….more on that later.

I did discuss my plans for the reat of the week anyway though, and when gesturing wildly in the air (the always-handy and questionably-effecvtive 'air map') failed we went upstairs to find a real map twenty minutes, lots of storytelling, some planning, and a few pieces of Mozartkugeln later (you can't visit the Mozart House until you have Mozartkugeln), we parted ways – Andrew & Rachel to the Mozart House and myself to my room to gather my things, and then on to Scloss Schonbrunn.

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Now I'm walking through the park trying to find the palace. “What park?” I hear you asking; and I can assure you that I'm asking myself the exact same question. Guess who left their map in their room; come on, one guess. Is it the guy who meticulously planned out each little detail of his day trips? Hm? Yep. He forgot to grab the map on the way out. Now I'm walking through a large, somewhat barren park – Schloss Schonbrunn is, according to the map, over one kilometer in ech direction and has a large park, and so logically I headed for the first large park I saw at the “Schonbrunn” subway stop. Something that large should be hard to miss; and yet, this is not the correct park. Go me.

It looks like there is a large somewhat ornate building up around the corner, maybe that's it.

Nope, that says…Technical Museum? Okay, where the heck am I now?? Wait I remember that the Technial Museum was a bit above the palace….so if I turn around and head south I should see it eventually. Let's try that.

Or I could just actually turn around, since the palace is now staring at me from across the river. I'm not usually this bad with orientation, I swear.

————

I'm just inside the palace now. I walked through a rather large courtyard, into a little side door, and was greeted by a massive line for tickets extending from the ticket booths at one end of the room all the way to the ticketing kiosks at the other. Yeah. So I bought my ticket, walked around the gigantic queue, and entered the museum no problem – and then got my audio guide and proceeded to waltz up the stairs, literally (because in Vienna, waltzes are the background music for everything).

But speaking of stairs, these were cool. Aptly named the “blue stairs” they were adorned with a royal blue carpet running down the middle of the marble steps that turned up to the second floor, Above us were tall windows with ornate framework (only one was restored to it's original gold covering) and above that there stretched a beautifully painted ceiling of some obscure reference to Austria's power (seriously, it was not described). The audio guide did say, however, that the palace was originally a hunting lodge that was later converted to a live-in palace; but even as a palace it was much less ornate until Maria Theresa and Queen Elizabeth of Austria (called Sissi) had it redecorated and maintained in a rococo style.

I'm not going to write a history paper here, so don't hold your breath, but I am going to go into detail so if you want to skip to the next part, scroll down until you see the dashes.

We worked our way through the Guard room, where four mannequins were on display in various military garb – this was the room where the guards protected the emperor's chambers, and it was where anyone who wanted an audience with the the emperor (Franz Joseph I) had to pass through. Next was the reception room, where, as named, people waited for the emperor; it had a rather large pool table to entertain the guards. attached to this, but closed save but for viewing, was the aides-de-camp room, where the emperor's aides would wait to help the emperor for whatever he might need; and then there was the emperor's study itself, a beautiful room made of what must have been chestnut, with bookshelves, a simple yet regal desk, and a series of beautiful gold candlesticks “scattered” about. Apparently Franz Joseph I gave audience to over 100 people almost every single morning, and had an excellent enough memory to not forget any details. I was impressed.

The next three rooms were unfortunately under constructions, with the walls covered and the furniture removed; apparently they were the bedchamber of Franz Joseph (where he died), his latrine, and one other thing that I'm not too sure about. Past that were a series of three rooms that belonged to Sissi, the emperor's cousin and wife, beginning with a “closet” (that's what they call smaller rooms in the palace, but the rooms themselves are still rather large) that had a door to a deck on the right, and a doorway to the “Staircase Room” on the left (going forward was not an option since this served as a corner of the palace). The Staircase Room was Sissi's study, but named for the large spiral staircase that went through the floor into the empress's private bedchamber – however, this staircase was removed after the deposition of the last emperor. An interesting fact that we learned at this point in the tour was that Sissi was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Europe at this time – and took great pains to keep it that way. She would pursue physical activites that kept her in shape (which was a little unusual at the time), she would more often than not completely skip dinner with her family so that she wouldn't eat, and she spent hours each day maintaining her ankle-length hair; and in the next room, her makeup room, I saw some impressive combs to match that statement. Past there was the family dining room, a beautiful white room with a large central table, fully set as if for an impending meal using the silver pieces from the silver museum collection.

After that, we saw so many rooms that the order now escapes me; but they were all beautiful, especially the ones built with Chinese art (there were two beautiful blue and white Chinese rooms, and one room with black lacquer panels with Chinese art on them). There was also one room in the palace dedicated as the “Napolean Room” where he stayed during his two occupations – but more than Napolean, his son Flancy was the subject of that room. There was a large portrait of him in the garden, and a bust of him on his deathbed at the age of 21 (taken by lung disease) – but what I've never seen in a museum before is that they stuffed and mounted his pet bird on a desk in the center. It was interesting, but unusual.

Overall, the art in Schonbrunn palace was fantastic, with many gigantic paintings renowned for their detail and accuracy, mostly depicting large ceremonies (i.e. weddings) in its history. Additionally there was quite a lot of history attached to each room (as opposed to the palace as a whole); for example, the Napolean room; the recital hall, where the six-year-old Mozart performed for what I beliee was the first time, then ran over to the queen, jumped on her lap, threw his arms around her and kissed her on the cheek. One of the China rooms that I mentioned earlier was used as a secret meeting room for the queen and some of subordinates for certain political matters. There was simply a lot of character throughout the palace, and I would recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

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Now I'm out front the palace again, and I need to figure out how to get to the back; there are supposed to be some impressive grounds, although the maze & labyrinth are both closed (that's what they call it, but I'm not quite sure of the difference between the two).

——————-

Impressive, despite being a reltively strong word in the English language, is not half as descriptive as necessary to define the grounds of Schloss Schonbrunn. There is a cafe called Gloriette; on the map it is in the middle of the grounds, but in reality it is fifteen minute walk from the palace, and then up a six-story hill, overlooking the entire city, and every single step of the way is a beautiful aspect of landscape and architecture. Seriously, look at the hundreds of pictures I took when I post them. Just the lighting was a sort of religious experience, solely illuminating the palace when I reached Gloriette. I could go on and on, there are seriously not the right words to describe this event.

And on that glorious note, a happy ending to my day, I traipsed back over to the subway station, back to the Hutteldorf station, grabbed my token Durum for lunch (more on that later) and got to the hostel to shower and relax.

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A note about the showers at the hostel – you press the knob and have ten seconds of water. For a five minute shower, this translates to pressing the knob 30 times, at least; or at least that's what they want you to do. My way is a little nicer – take two shower curtain clips, link them together, snap one around the pipe that connects the front lateral pipe to the joint, and snap the other one around the handle, and take a nice 25 minute shower.

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Post shower, which is the point I'm at now, is going well – I'm chilling in the lounge off the lobby of the hostel, a raher funky room with orange and red cushioned chairs, well-designed lamps, and a rather cheery paint job – and I've been working, and will continue working until much later tonight.

Hope you enjoyed this entry, I know I did. There will be more, both about my time spent in Frankfurt, and the rest of my travels throughout the year. I promise you this, as well as lots of pictures.

Happy New Years!s

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