Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Last Day in Europe

Our second day in Vienna, and our last day of the trip, was sunny in its weather and in its content.  It may have been the only day of the trip that we did not visit a memorial site or museum commemorating a mass murder!

It started with a tour of an honest-to-goodness palace.  The Hapsburg
if you're going to do it,
do it really big
dynasty was ruling lands in the region from the 13th century until 1918, and it also boasted great longevity and stability in that Franz Joseph, its last ruler, was in power from 1848 – 1916. While much of the Schönbrunn Palace was built by 18th century empress Maria Theresa (Elisabeth researched and reported to us about M.T.’s great talents as a ruler), Franz Joseph refurbished the existing buildings and its 1,441 rooms with much of what was on display.  The Schönbrunn Palace served as summer palace—keep in mind that the winter palace is just a few miles away in the middle of Vienna—and had hunting lands behind it as well as a zoo.  (Doesn't every royal family needs to hunt wild animals and also to gaze upon them in captivity?)  We enjoyed an audio tour via a hand-held telephone-like amplifier that guided us through bedrooms, clothes-changing rooms, multiple dining rooms for different types of meals, and multiple halls for different types of entertaining.  Each is still outfitted with lots of its furniture, wall coverings, and accessories.  For example, there was a piece of furniture kept next to Franz Joseph’s bed especially used for kneeling in prayer (he’d do this every morning upon wakening).  The audio tour taught us about the Franz Joseph’s great love for his wife Sisi (she was bored with him, disliked his mother, and stayed away a lot), and how they raised and married off their children.  The glue that held the Hapsburg Empire together and the reason its neighboring monarchies did not invade was because the Hapsburg offspring were married to those with whom the rulers needed a peaceful alliance.  Why waste marriage on love??

our noble stallions

Olivia among the flowers
  Despite this practical attitude, the flower-covered arbor outside was very romantic and beautiful, and the garden had intimate paths for private strolls as well as huge open areas to display fine horses.

can't get enough of it
We left the palace and took a tram to Vienna’s Naschmarkt, a permanent type of Farmers Market that has been in that part of the city since the 18th century.  Today it is a gem within the city, drawing in crowds because of its local and imported goods and fresh produce.  It includes restaurants, and it’s also a great place to try out different cuisines.  The vendors offered samples, so some of us filled up on the hand-outs of aged cheeses, olives, falafel, Austrian breads, and Pistachio gelato.  Others sat and ate a real meal, then found another place for coffee and the best spot for people-watching.  Some of the students found that the highlight of the Farmers Markers was interacting with the people in the shops.  The vendors don’t simply let you walk by; they call out and talk, ask questions, and try to encourage you to part with your money in their shops.

view from the top
After Naschmarkt we had the opportunity to do two things that most groups would likely never do: we visited the café on the top floor of Vienna's Supreme Court building, and that’s where we chatted with Jon Goldberg, an active member of the local Jewish community.  The café is not widely known to tourists because there is such tight security to enter the building. The beautiful panoramic views of Vienna from the café's windows and delicious Viennese coffee were an added bonus to hearing Jon talk about his efforts to get members of Vienna’s diverse community to engage with one another.  A native of Denver, Colorado, he loves living in Vienna for all of its cultural opportunities. He, like our city tour guide on the previous day, thinks that Austria is a country with a glorious past but today’s society does not quite cohere.

We left the Supreme Court building and went our separate ways, doing our best to spend the rest of our Euros.

For our last evening activity in Europe, we went to a concert in
an appreciative audience
nothing subtle about it
one of Vienna's palaces, so it was historic and elegant at the same time.  The Wiener Hofburg Orchestra concert program featured several of Mozart's more famous operas, but most of the pieces were orchestral works by Strauss like waltzes.   There were a couple of comedic elements intertwined with the music: a cuckoo bird tweet at odd intervals, a huntsman with his gun, a blacksmith with hammers and what seemed to be an anvil, and a man holding up a yellow and red card as if the music were a soccer game.   We all had a great time hearing familiar tunes as well as songs we had never heard before.  It was fun spending our last evening in Europe laughing together and listening to music.

We have had such a variety of experiences on this trip!   It’s hard to believe that in just about two weeks we’ve each learned so much.  The places we visited taught us so much about the past, knowledge we never could have gained from reading and hearing lectures.  It also taught us about the capacity of human beings to fight, to be cruel, to make sacrifices, and to love.  We are so grateful that we had this amazing journey together.


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