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Journals from Aug-2009 Austria Semester Abroad in Vienna

2009-10-11 Fall Break- There goes the warm weather

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View of upper Belvedere from the palace gardens

Greetings best beloved bloggers, I wanted to say a few more words about Prague before regaling you with the week's exploits. Being dragged along by my nose up and down the golden city for four days running, seven to nine miles a day without two minutes of free time to rub together was an experience that ranked somewhere between overwhelmingly spectacular and godawful. During this time I saw Bizet's 'Carmen' in the state theater, visited the Mucha Museum and wept, was herded through St. Vitus's Cathedral, took about half a million photos, bought a marionette (who I picked out of thousands of others, from the highest shelf on the last peg, hidden behind a door) and a scarf, was accosted by some gentlemen in a sketchy tourist shop, ate food, did not get food poisoning, did not go on a pub crawl, stole a cobble stone, had my eyes affronted by a fellow on the subway who was wearing denim shorts with wide holes in the legs and nothing beneath, had creme brulee in the Mucha Restaurant, and left a stone on a grave of the old Jewish Cemetery. The posse and I did not see the Pope, just some bored looking snipers on the rooftops. The impression I left with was that Prague is a city in transition. The last century has steamrolled over the Czech republic with at least three vastly different competing ideologies, the collective tolls of which are still being recovered from. Thirty years ago, half the buildings and sculptures that I was able to see wouldn't have been available to the public. Most everything would have been in bad repair, whole blocks of impressive buildings would have stood empty and derelict, and a group of young over-privileged Americans traveling together would have been seen as an enemy invasion. The Prague I had the privilege of visiting was more like a glowing debutante, eager to show off and impress. Having discovered that antiquity is not only marketable but exceedingly lucrative, every building of significance is being restored and put on display. Prague's growing tourist industry is not yet old enough to be a jaded and unwelcome institution. Capitalism in general seems to be treated like a shiny, explosive new trend spreading with great enthusiasm and no real planning. The other side of the coin is blacker. Thirty years ago, there also wouldn't have been three homeless people to every street corner, or elderly or infirm people who had to walk everywhere in the city because they could no longer afford to pay for a street car. Strange dichotomy. It will be interesting to see where the next decade takes Prague and other former Eastern Bloc countries. Switching back to Vienna: Fall break ends and official university classes begin tomorrow. This week of freedom was greatly appreciated by everyone. My compatriots immediately scattered to the winds like so many proverbial autumn leaves to experience continental hospitality in more exotic locales, leaving me to explore Vienna on my own, having no friends or relations in Europe willing to house me and no visiting family to entertain. I have used this time mostly to write exceedingly florid run-on sentences. By some accounts, I have been criminally negligent as a sightseer; I went on no overnight train rides to Venice, I spent several days almost entirely indoors reading and drawing, and visited the same museum twice in two days. Shameful. However, adventures were had! I for one enjoy the experience of walking about a city with no agenda or schedule, which I was able to do in plenty this week. Noteworthy discoveries included a charming, secret antique bookshop, an independent comic book store, a beautiful fountain near my residence that I had no idea existed, a gothic fashion boutique, and a Himalayan restaurant which remains to be explored further. Happiest of my excursions was Schloss Belvedere. I cannot recommend this beautiful structure enough. The upper museum contains within its exquisite impressionist gallery Klimt's "The Kiss" and in another room, one of the five versions of "Napoleon Crossing the Alps", but don't go only for the most famous paintings if you are going! That would be tragic- there are so many incredible works in both upper and lower Belvedere that left me needing a respirator. Of course, "The Kiss" is extremely impressive in person. No reproduction print or scarf or coffee mug is going to do it justice. You have to be in the same room with it, move around and see how the sort of nebulous, celestial gold background gradually eclipses the two figures with light. It is magnificent. Possibly the best thing about Belvedere, besides its prolific galleries, is that one may romp through its sphinx bedecked pristine floral gardens and fountain-dotted grounds for free. -FOR FREE. What is not to love?!? My other museum experience this week was slightly disappointing. I had high hopes for the Secession Museum, being an enthusiast of all things art nouveau and Jugendstil as I am. I knew that the Secession had Klimt's Beethoven Frieze on loan from Belvedere, and I was excited to see it and what would presumably be a gallery full of Otto Wagner, Egon Schiele, Klimt and other turn of the century artists. As it turns out, the Beethoven Frieze is the ONLY work in this style, and in fact, the only traditional work in the whole building. While the outside of the museum is ornate and art nouveau-ish in every way one could hope for, the inside of the building is completely barren. In fact, it's mostly cement and white plaster, with nothing artsy to be seen anywhere. Klimt's masterpiece is hidden in the basement, displayed in what I can only describe as an indoor tennis court. I paid something like seven euros as a student to see one piece of artwork, and then ran out of museum. Go, if you must, but I cannot recommend it, unless you are a fan of gruesomely post-modern industrial installation art and film clips. Which may be very nice. To be fair, I didn't spend much time in that part of the gallery. Also to be fair, the only the other advertised exhibit was a double-sided vacuum in an empty room. Right. Off to do all that homework that I was supposed to be finishing all week! ~Your Obedient Blogist, Rivka Nipper

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