Journals from Aug-2009 Austria Semester Abroad in Vienna
2009-09-27 The Golden City
Taken from the top of the old city hall tower
Best beloved blog readers,
This is an exciting week! Three walking tours in one week, followed by three more all-day tours in Prague! With the Pope! I'm going to need new shoes after this...
Thursday we visited castle Kreuzenstein, of "Three Musketeers the Movie" fame, which was a horrendously long uphill walk and many stairs' worth of suffering to get to. Kreuzenstein intrigued me especially because of the historically panoramic architecture. The original structure of the castle dates from the twelfth century, but includes renovations and additions from the 1600s, 1800s, and the 1900s. We got to see a mostly-intact medieval kitchen, complete with a wind powered automatic grill invented by Leonardo da Vinci, and a full armory. Also noteworthy was the attached chapel's stained glass window. Windows like this were constructed using glass-making methods that are apparently no longer known to us; even though the glass itself is many different bright colors, the light filtered through it is white. It was a novel and sort of eerie experience to see.
After not nearly enough sleep, the group and I arrived in Prague on Friday morning, and almost immediately started on a walking tour of the old Jewish sector of the city. We visited the famous Jewish cemetery and the memorial museum, as well as the museum of Hebraic artifacts, the Old New Synagogue, and my favorite, the Spanish Schule, which is a giant Sephardic synagogue built in the Moorish style. It's so elaborate and colorful that it's not immediately recognizable as a synagogue; it looks like a cross between a baroque cathedral and a mosque.
We then took the rest of the evening off, with various excursions into revelry and partaking of libation.
Today we whisked through the old sector of town, seeing just enough to make me wish that we had an extra couple of days of free time to just wander around, shop, and visit things. We just got back from seeing Bizet's "Carmen" at the state theater, and it was really top-notch. I know opera isn't everyone's cup of tea, especially after nine miles of walking, but I think even the people that weren't leaping for joy at the prospect of sitting through two and half hours of music in French were pleasantly surprised by the production. The staging alone was pretty impressive; with a semicircular 'stone' fortification and stairs situated in the middle of a rotating stage and festive flamenco dancers accompanying each scene, it was hard to go wrong.
The two most difficult aspects of survival in this city so far are navigation and currency. Day two in Prague and the underground is starting to be a little less incomprehensible, but the change over from Euros to Crowns is still baffling. It's extremely disorienting paying forty to fifty crowns for a hotdog and carrying around 1000 Crown bills in your pocket. However, communication is no problem, as most everyone here speaks reasonable English or German if not both, and most of the locals we've talked to so far have been very patient with us, if not downright friendly.
The Golden City is amazing, and I wish we had time to accept all it has to offer.