Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oh, Vienna!

My Vienna adventure began with Mass. We celebrated it in the Kapuzinerkloster, a tiny church in the Altstadt of Vienna. Our professors are teaching us the proper way to travel: plan, pray, and then have fun.

After Mass, we took a walking tour and visited the Stephansdom, St. Stephen's Cathedral. It is a Gothic wonder. Somehow the Baroque churches, as beautiful and ornate as they are, do not match the grave and brooding majesty of the Gothic cathedrals. 

Inside St. Stephen's

At lunch, I ate my first Wienerschnitzel. It is basically fried, breaded veal. I liked it well enough. I also ordered red wine, which they served in a mug because they ran out of glasses. The mug was full to the brim, and I was careful to only drink half of it, which was enough to make my face feel flushed. 

Caroline, Mike, Mark and I then walked around the city, enjoying ourselves despite the frigid temperatures. We explored souvenir shops, and then walked to the Michaelerplatz. In the center of this plaza are the Roman ruins of Vindobona- that is the ancient name for Vienna. On this plaza are the Hofburg Palace, St. Michael's Church, and Cafe Griensteidl.

Inside the palace is the Vienna Treasury, called the Schatzkammer. We each paid nine Euro for entrance. This is well worth it, especially if you happen to be a history buff and a devout Catholic, both of which I am. The Schatzkammer contains treasures accumulated through centuries upon centuries. I saw the Emporer's Crown of the Holy Roman Empire (circa 962), a unicorn horn (narwhal) and one of the largest emeralds in the world. It was the size of my sister Chiara when she was born. The treasury also houses a very sacred reliquary, which contained a nail from Jesus' crucifixion, as well as a splinter of the Cross itself.

By the time we finished being awed by treasures beyond our imaginations, it was getting dark. We crossed the main square to the Cafe Griensteidl, one of the city's famous coffee houses. Caroline was especially keen on eating there because, as she excitedly told us, it is where Bambi was written. For some reason, the boys weren't as thrilled about this revelation as they could have been. As for me, I was happy to eat anywhere that offered Vienna's famous tortes, which Griensteidl did.

I order the Esterhazytorte, which was layered and had buttermilk and hazelnuts...and was out-of-this-world delicious. It was also too sweet for me to finish, so Mark manfully ate half my slice to prevent any waste.

We then visited St. Michael's. When we entered the church, there were no tour groups and clicking cameras around. The space was almost completely deserted, and was dark except for the brightly-lit main alter and a few candles lining the walls. A recording of sacred chant was playing faintly, but it was not difficult to pretend that there were living monks chanting from somewhere just out of sight. Behind the main alter was a massive depiction carved into white stone- Archangel Michael battling the devil. Apart from receiving Holy Communion, this was the most intimate religious moment I have experienced in Austria- thus far.

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