By Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old World as thirty days would allow, recording their favorite places and activities along the way. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their installment, logged from Vienna.
The train from Prague to Vienna glided by small towns gathered around steepled stone churches, and a rolling country quilt of sunflowers and other crops. Arriving in Vienna, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel, and then set out on foot to explore some of the city’s amazing museums.
Immersed in Art. Entering the MuseumsQuartier (Museum Quarter), we found a playground of fanciful structures on which children climb and adults lounge. Walk through (or on) these, past the restaurants and cafes, to the Leopold Museum. The Leopold focuses on Austrian art, from the evolution of Egon Schiele’s Expressionism to Vienna’s Art Nouveau movement, the Jugendstil. It also has a changing array of temporary exhibits–check the website for details. Whatever you see, take time to notice its beautiful white marble building. Also worth checking out is the KUNSTHALLE wien for photography, film, installation art, and new media, and the mumok for modern and contemporary art. Then, perhaps, settle back on one of the colorful sculptural “couches” and watch. This is a really fun and alive architectural space.
Hofburg Palace: Sisi, as Emperor Franz Josef’s wife was affectionately known, and the Emperor come alive on a tour of the Hofburg Palace and its Sisi Museum. Through photos, we understood how the cinch-waist tomboy country girl Elizabeth captured the heart of Franz Josef and much of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Their rooms and photos paint the picture of a very formal, proper Franz Joseph, who ascended the throne at the age of 18, and an irrepressible wife. The couple seemed to be enough in love to let each other live their lives to the fullest. However the people of Vienna never quite embraced the untraditional Sisi. This exhibit presents the history behind the myth, and includes a new area focused on her role as a parent which opened in honor of the 175th anniversary of her birth (December 24,1837).
Food. Confession: I had wiener schnitzel for dinner every night we were in Vienna. And I don’t regret it. Plenty of Viennese food is borrowed from its neighbors, however; it does possess some wonderful dishes of its own—especially when it comes to desserts. Be sure to taste of some of Vienna’s justly famous pastries such as apple strudel and Sachertorte (chocolate cake). One chocolate and pastry shop, Demel, actually has a candy museum in its basement. The museum can be a little hard to find so ask a staff member to direct you; it’s worth it, you’ll learn about its history as the former Imperial bakery (founded in 1786) and how treats were delivered underground to Empress Sisi at the palace. When you’re ready for a traditional meal, ask your hotel or a local for suggestions, such as mom’s choices: boiled beef with bread dumplings (Tafelspitz) at La Boheme, and pasta with cabbage (krautfleckerl) at Glacis Beisl, or, my favorite everywhere, wiener schnitzel.
Vienna by Night. Lovely by day, the broad avenues of Vienna, lined by gracious baroque architecture, are magical by night. Vienna’s historic district gives you space to feel the impact of its grandeur. Strolling past illuminated monuments such as the grand Natural History Museum and the Hofburg Palace one evening, we saw just a few dozen people.The big crowd was gathered at Rathausplatz, where a giant movie screen was mounted on the spire-capped Vienna City Hall. Here, the free annual summer film festival was showing animated arias from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Rossini’s the Barber of Seville and Bizet’s Carmen and free bleachers and chairs provided comfortable seating. We also loved that we could walk back to our hotel, the quirky 42-room Hotel Altstadt Vienna, located in the trendy art district of Spittelberg, just behind the MuseumsQuartier. The halls and spacious high-ceiling rooms feel like an artist’s studio, with original art and avant-garde furnishings throughout—a great complement to Vienna’s lively art scene.
Freud’s Vienna home. Freud fans will get a lot out of a visit to the place where his practice and daily life took place. Freud and his family lived here from 1891 until 1938, when they fled to England. The Freud Museum, located in his former home and office, contains his refurbished waiting room as well as detailed informational guides in English and other languages on his interests, life and work. We were surprised to learn that Freud had three “obsessions”: travel, smoking and antiques; liked Hannibal because he saw the ancient war strategist’s tenacity as similar to that of the Jews; and he actually psychoanalyzed his own daughter. The guides add insight to the displays which include home videos of Freud with commentary from his daughter Anna, as well as photos, memorabilia, documents, and notes from the man himself.
Mozart’s House. Allow at least an hour to enjoy the audio tour at Mozarthaus, which intersperses information about Mozart’s life with lovely samples of his compositions. The museum is set throughout the home where Mozart lived in grand style from 1784 to 1878 and created some of his most famous works. Anecdotes about displayed objects such as the red jacket he let a countess know he “had to have,” and quotes from Hayden, his father, and others whose photographs are displayed provide a complex picture of this restless musical genius. Snippets of the movie Amadeus and a multimedia collage of scenes from “The Magic Flute” help bring his story and works to life. However, those traveling with kids be forewarned: an enticing series of shadow boxes along one of the walls illustrates the story of the Mozart and the area’s Red Light district past.
Next, we take a scenic journey to Venice.
Geri Bain (right), a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and has been published in the Riverdale Press and Elegant Lifestyles. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and will be studying political science at the University of Chicago this fall.