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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Last Days in Vienna

Our last couple of days in Vienna were pretty low-key, aside from visiting St. Stefan's cathedral on the Friday.  On Thursday, we wanted to do something different from visiting churches or palaces.  I did a little bit of research and suggested Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building designed with the concept of man living in harmony with nature.  Not only did this promise to be a quirky site, but there was supposed to be a penny squasher (er, a Euro two cent squasher) in a nearby shop.  For anyone reading this who hasn't traveled with me recently, I think squashed pennies make some of the best souvenirs because (a) they are inexpensive, (b) they are small, (c) they generally incorporate the name of the place you visited, and (d) I can turn them into charms and make jewelry out of them.

There was actually quite a crowd of photo-takers at Hundertwasserhaus (architecture buffs, perhaps?).  It was a cool building, and I did find that coin squasher.

Coin squasher, Austrian style!
We also went to the second half of the Jewish Museum (it is housed in two separate buildings).  Both buildings had guards at the entrance.  It is sad to think of the need to have guards at so many public places, and very sad to think of a place needing protection from hatred, but this seems to be the reality we all live in.  The first half of the museum we visited focused more on Vienna's Jewish community centuries ago; this one focused on more recent history, particularly how the Holocaust and then waves of immigration from Central Asia had shaped the community.

On Friday, we visited St. Stephen's cathedral.  We stayed at a hotel near it, so we had seen it from the outside every day.  Our guidebook suggested devoting half a day to it, so we though it would be a good activity for the day we left.

The reality was a little different from what I expected.  From the guidebook, I was under the impression that we could pretty much explore at leisure.  The reality was a little more complicated, with all sorts of separate tickets to see different parts of the church, package deals, and places where we had to wait for guides to start tours and then pay them in person at the end.  It was also extremely crowded inside.  Granted, this is a very popular site to see, but I also have the sense that the number of tourists was increasing with every day we spent in Vienna.  I think we arrived just at the end of a tourism lull.  Anyway, I got a few pictures inside and outside.

This one was taken on another day.  :)

We decided to forgo much of the confusion of different ticket prices and tour options, but did decide to see the catacombs.  This entailed loitering near a staircase for a tour guide.  We actually had to wait a while because someone leading an organized tour (one of those deals where the guide carries a brightly colored sign that everyone follows) sort of muscled in and took the other guide's time slot.  Sigh.  Anyway, it was interesting, if pretty creepy.  I was horrified to see human bones in the catacombs!  I couldn't take pictures there, but maybe that is just as well.

Our last couple of days in Vienna were also an exercise in eating.  I had been curious about the various sausage stands on the street, and ended up eating sausage for lunch on both Thursday and Friday.  I had some sort of bratwurst on Thursday.  American hotdog vendors should visit Vienna and take notes.  First of all, both the sausage and the bread were good.  The bread was a baguette-type bread, rather than a squishy hotdog bun.  Secondly, the vendor poked a hole through the center of the bread, rather than cutting it in half lengthwise.  That ensured that the sausage and the mustard stayed in place and that my hands stayed clean while eating it.  A perfect hotdog-eating system!  On Friday, I tried a currywurst, something I had heard about, but couldn't quite believe would be good.  It was, though--there was just a slight taste of curry in the sausage, just enough to make it interesting.

We also did some wandering and eating at a couple of outdoor markets we found.  These markets had a good mix of crafts and food.  And plenty of Easter eggs.  :)  I feel lucky to have visited so close to Easter so I could see all of the beautiful eggs.  I'm wondering what was made with the eggs that were blown out of their shells.

There were even ostrich eggs.

We also each had a fascinating pastry at the market.  It was some sort of dough wrapped around wooden poles and baked in an oven.  I've never seen anything like it.

I fear this photo does not do the pastry's structure justice.
Late Friday afternoon, after purchasing some cheese and chocolate to take back to Kazakhstan with us, we sadly bid Vienna farewell.  We couldn't have asked for a better vacation.  I had forgotten what it was like to not feel tense all the time.  I am relieved that grouchiness doesn't have to be a permanent part of my personality.

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