The first day of the month – and we’re in Vienna!
It’s only just up the road from Bratislava – or rather just up the river. The Danube – if you want to get all riparian about it.
Boarding the hydrofoil, the short distance took us along the river into Austria, enjoying what views there were through the rain-splattered windows. A lowering skyline of dark cloud hemmed the embankments in Bratislava, Devin and Hainburg; meadow forests and fishermen’s cottages, crumbling castle ruins and fortification walls were all passed as we journeyed on.
Negotiating the dam of Freudenau was somewhat finicky before we finally reached our destination.
Although it rained all day – not even stopping for one minute – it didn’t prevent us from having a splendid time in the city.
Of course, when there’s a cathedral available, it’s only polite to pop in and have an admire.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and, with its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof, it has become one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
Little Asides Warning:
The funeral of the Italian composer, Antonio Vivaldi occurred in this cathedral in 1741.
Beethoven discovered just how deaf he was when he noticed birds flying out of the bell tower as a result of the bells’ tolling but could not hear the bells.
A memorial tablet gives a detailed account of Mozart’s relationship with the cathedral. This was his parish church when he lived here – he was married here, two of his children were baptised here, and his funeral was held in the Chapel of the Cross.
After a thorough perusal of all things cathedrally (it was still chucking it down outside), we headed for the Café Central for a thoroughly splendid lunch with some legendary cake to finish things off.
The café occupies the ground floor of the former Bank and Stock Market Building, and was a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene. It is a classy affair and boasted many famous customers including regular patrons Freud, Trotsky, Lenin and Hitler.
Often they would all meet up and have a game of Scrabble.
(OK, I made that last bit up).
Finally, we pitched up at the Belvedere for the Klimts.
The Belvedere owns many works by the renowned Austrian artist Gustav Klimt including the famous Kiss and Judith (that’s two paintings!)
The Belvedere is a historic building complex, consisting of two Baroque palaces with grounds set on a gentle gradient, including decorative tiered fountains and cascades, sculptures, and some impressive wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy – jammy beggar!
“Carlo Innocenzo Carlone – Prince Eugene as a new Apollo and leader of the Muses”
Vienna was an effortlessly easy city to get around – the trams and the Metro ensuring we made as much of the day as possible.
It was still raining next day back in Bratislava…
We checked out – Steve was charged an extortionate 24 Euros for a jug of orange juice he’d accidentally broken at breakfast. It marred what had until then been an excellent choice of lodgings – the Mama’s Design & Boutique Hotel.
We mooched around the city, taking coffee and cake at the UFO Restaurant – a stylish venue at the top of Novy Most (New Bridge) that spanned the Danube. Apparently, the deck of the restaurant was not accessible to people during communism in order to prevent people from seeing capitalist Austria!
Further mooching took in an Irish bar that had become something of a favourite of ours and, for want of a cultural interlude, we also visited the Bratislava City Gallery.
However, there was little of interest there to keep us away from the bars, and our trip was rounded off with a thorough perusal of said establishments.
The RSPB insists you’ll love the big skies, sandy beach and bird-filled marshes of Titchwell Marsh and they’re not wrong – it’s an outstanding nature reserve to put it mildly.
It was a bit of jaunt getting to this part of north Norfolk from the Midlands but it is well worth the effort – not least because I got to see an Arctic Skua.
These are nasty, vicious birds with plenty of attitude to spare and they’ll think nothing of ripping after a gull or tern to steal its catch – or to even kill the actual bird sometimes.
I love ‘em, I really do!
I forgot to include a nature notes warning so you’ll just have to plough through this part…
The walk from the visitor centre heads down to the sandy beach past reedbeds and the shallow lagoons, which were chocka with birds. The Parrinder Hide is a work of art – fantastically funky, if that’s still a word that can still be banded about without too much derision. The usual suspects were in plentiful supply with a nice turn in curlew sandpiper and avocet.
To finish off the month on a suitably cultural footnote, I went to see the Kite Runner at the Birmingham Rep with friends from the college.
Here’s the five star review from the Birmingham Mail, which saves me the job:
The Kite Runner at Birmingham Rep
Tears are welling in my eyes as I think back to this moving story of two young boys growing up in Afghanistan and the different fates that befall them – tempered by their own personalities and the political, social and economic events that they live through.
It stars just 10 actors (of which there is just one woman), plus a drummer, who are aided by a few different backdrops and a bit of clever lightening.
Yet the audience is transported through three decades and from the streets of Kabul to the sunny beaches of California on emotional roller coaster which explores father-son relationships, social values, love and violence – including some brutally disturbing incidents.
This is a sad story, but it is peppered with biting humour and hope and shines a different light onto Afghanistan, the country which has been at the centre of the War on Terror, Osama bin Laden and opium.
May be it is not a surprise that the play is so good as it is based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 international best seller.
But replicating such a complex story which spans such a long period and crosses the globe cannot have been an easy feat.
Speaking ahead of the opening night in Birmingham playwright Matthew Spangler explained: “Part of the pleasure in reading the Kite Runner and, I hope, seeing the play is that there is just so much in it.”
He met Khaled through a mutual friend in San Francisco before he set about writing the piece and it is obvious that the author’s input has been invaluable to its success – 95 per cent of his notes to Spangler contained changes he would have put in the book.
Attention to detail is another ingredient that has helped to ensure the impact of the story is maximised.
A cultural consultant is hired for each production and Spangler re-writes some of the prose to suit the different actors playing the main parts.
Superb acting by Nicholas Karimi (Assef), Andre Costin (Hassan/Sohrab) and David Ahmad (Kamal) ensured the story is portrayed with full impact.