Sunday, January 24, 2016

Vienna: Day 1.5

We arrived in Vienna to the beginnings of a snowstorm. The sky, grey and cloudless, slowly spit fat snowflakes that increased well into the night. The train ride from the airport was long and not terribly scenic - fields and factories - but the seats were cushioned and the heaters were comforting as we looked outside at the snow amassing on the ground. Jake studied the subway map like there would be an exam on it, while I contemplated the fact that I'm probably reading too many war novels because now, whenever I see snow, I think about dreadful it would be to be called to fight in it.

The subway left us off at Kettenbruckengasse, an extremely cute, little subway stop that opens onto the Naschmarkt where I spied some woolly socks that I will be buying. After checking in at the hostel, we embarked towards the Ringstrasse - a ring road that encircles the touristy and historic part of Vienna. Mozart played on the listening guide as numerous composers, the opera house, and other claims to culture appeared to our left and right. I sat by the window so I could take photos, but I was so dumbfounded that I didn't take any.

The train skidded when it stopped, the wet snow muddling the tracks, and, when we disembarked, our shoulders piled high with powdery snow. The light was fading in Vienna and the cold nipped at our ears and noses.

In Stadt Park are monuments to Schubert, Strauss, and numerous other composers, some of whom I've never heard of and I wondered if Vienna was maybe just making up a few names to mess with tourists a bit, kind of like how Athens puts some of their historical relics in the metro system.

The alarm went off at 6:30 this morning. It was Sunday and, unlike most other Sundays, we had to go to church. Standing room only tickets: 0 Euros. Cheese and apricot pastry: 2 Euros. Hearing the voices of the Vienna Boys Choir resound in the Hofsburg Kapelle: Priceless.

The high, vibratoless soprano, amassed in Mozart's Agnus Dei is enough to make your heart skip a beat. There is, in their voices, something holier than Catholicism and for me, much more tangible. I felt a little badly for the high priest, though, knowing that every Sunday he had to preach to a congregation of sinners who were more interested in hearing the Vienna Boys Choir than his sermon.

The snow had stopped and the day was comparably warm. It was about half ten and the Imperial Treasury was in our sights. Just a friendly suggestion: they might want to rename the Imperial Treasury to the Museum of a 1000 Crucifixes. Crucifixes in gold. Crucifixes in bronze. Crucifixes inlaid with mother-of-pearl. You get the idea.

But the crowning glory of the crowned jewels is the Imperial crown of the Holy Roman Emperors. Worn by Charlemagne on his coronation in 1517, the 8-sided crown, which pictures King Solomon, King David, the Prophet Isiah, Christ in Majesty, and featuring 144 precious stones, has been passed down from HRE to HRE, finally to land in the hands of Hapsburgs, to their claim, the crown's rightful descendants.

I, of course, couldn't stop singing Pippin.

One thing I love about Vienna is how quiet it is. Maybe it's just that it's winter or maybe it's the city's imperial nature, but everything is softer here. And the bells of St. Stephan's echo off the cobblestone and their peal is a nice change from the Turkish prayers we hear five times daily.

It is Sunday in Vienna and, good Catholics that they are, mass is everywhere. Every church we see has churchgoers and every pulpit is filled. From the Hapsburg Crypts we can hear the service happening above us. At least for the first hallway. As we descend further into the chambers, the sounds from above fade away and we're left with the posthumous extravagance of the Hapsburgs. 

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