Back toward the end of January, beginning of February I slipped away for eight days. In a trip that was supposed to be my Honeymoon with the love of my life and new husband, turned into an eye-opening bonding trip with my older brother who is going through a divorce. Two deaf lovelorn siblings let loose in one of the most bedazzling German speaking cities; Vienna, Austria. You might have picked up on it in a few posts dealing specifically with Vienna and Austria during that time, here on 19th Century Modern. This trip was going to be quite the experience. Considering my brother and I, while once thick as thieves in childhood, drifted so far apart starting in high school, I was virtually vacationing with an adult stranger whom I love. . . in a strange way.
For the record, my dear brother and I are complete opposites. I am high strung, anal-retentive, Type-A, 40-year plans worth of details sorta girl. My brother is super laid back, devil-may care, big picture, fly by the seat of your pants kinda guy. I refer to him sometimes as butt and a jerk, and in turn he calls me stupid and a nag (and he’s not wrong! I have zero street smarts. Zilch! And I do . . . . “pester” others when they are not meeting a preconceived time table . . .) Once during our teen years, my father actually introduced us to a work colleague as “This is my weed kid and this is my speed kid.”–Take a stab as to which was which.
Prior to asking him to join me on my Trip of Closure, I warned him regardless of what we do in Vienna, I am dragging his behind to the Sacher Hotel for a the legendary torte prior to attending the opera with me. It will be my treat. My brother actually has a wonderful Artsy-side, so he wasn’t put off by the idea. He was grumbling about the mandated (by me) dress code. I forced him to purchase a suit. (I told y’all I was bossy!) Part of my persuasion tactic included mentioning if I were to ever make it down the aisle, he would already have a suit ready for the occasion, second, if he ever wanted to remarry, he also would have such a garment at the ready. He made some snide remark about how it could also double for funeral ware . . . way to keep it real and big picture, Darin.
The European plane ride was lovely and the food way better than any thing we ate domestically, but the journey was long. We were trying to be adults and not resort to being cranky travel-weary twelve year olds. After a billion hours of traveling we landed in Vienna and made our way to . . . The Imperial Hotel Vienna! Do you remember this place? Not only did I showcase it during a Mute Monday, but previously it was mentioned in a travel piece about Conde Nast Gold’s List I would love to honeymoon . . . The dream came true! Albeit, under very different circumstances.
It is 5 star for a reason. One of the lady concierges gave us a quick tour of the entire place and personally lead us to our rooms. The heated marble bathroom was beyond lovely, but the most luxury portion of the whole room was the bed (separate twin beds, thank you very much!) My brother, who is an insomniac, actually slept sans sleep aids of any kind for 12 hours one night! I would love to box up the bed and bring it home! Forget “isn’t it nice to be in your bed again?” The answer is “no, nope, definitely not, nooooooooo!” The Hotel Imperial Vienna’s fee was worth every penny for those beds alone.
Due to jet lag, my first night I slept for 16 hours in one of those plush beds. My brother on the other hand, did not hit the hay until 48 hours later. Instead, he jogged around the Inner Ring of the city for two hours (admittedly he got lost and it took him a long while to find his way back.) He also took many photographs of himself while out and about. Ironic, since I made a point not to bring my smartphone on this excursion. Seriously, I unplugged. I needed to take a breather from my life and adjust to this new normal of having a dream stripped away and what my new normal means for the future. Basically, all that fun existential stuff that occurs to a person under heavy loss and crushing stress. He and I never did acclimate to Viennese time, which made it interesting both when we were there and when we returned to the states. We were half way through our trip, before we ever saw daylight. . . We spent a good day or two just walking all over the city. It was fascinating. It had been so long since we were last in Europe. His last visit was 15 years ago, mine was just three years past. One forgets that Europeans don’t drink water with every meal, much less ice water “from the tap.” Or how the public restrooms are paid for amenities. Or how the tax is included in the price and the prices themselves are higher. $57 at TGIF for two burgers, appetizer, one beer and one water. Oh and the lack of tipping waiters and other help staff . . . we could never figure out how much to give. The funniest aspect of the whole vacation was the language barrier. Since it is a big international city, almost everyone speaks English. However, we did learn “please” and “thank you” just to be polite. Thus said, we already know bits of other languages. We know some Spanish thanks to our heritage, I know a smattering of Italian, and my brother knows a bunch of Japanese phrases due to his extensive training in martial arts. So when someone helped us or asked us a question we needed clarified, we just blurted out the first foreign language that came to mind at the moment. Let me tell you, it wasn’t often German! But we couldn’t stop the madness, it lasted the whole trip.
Our first cultural stop was to the Hofburg Palace to pay homage to Empress Sisi/Elisabeth of Austria. We had to endure 13 rooms of the royal “china cabinet.” Jaw dropping porcelains, silverware, and dinnerware. I personally enjoyed the centerpieces and the enormous pot you could boil a whole pig in, because seriously, how did they cook for such a large staff without the technology we’re currently used to??? I can barely cook for one with the technological advancements of our modern age . . . Naturally, the palace prohibits photography in the state rooms of the late Emperor and Empress. So I do not have any pictures to show of her Star Dress or Crowning Dress nor her corset that shows off her itty bitty little waist.
The following day it was off to the Opera and the highlight of our entire time together as I knew it would be! I wore a minimalist blue dress with silver accessories and he wore his snazzy new suit and blue touches to match my dress. First we skipped over to the Sacher Hotel for the legendary torte and coffee. We’re not big java drinkers, so my brother played European and had the coffee while I opted for hot chocolate like a glaring American. Just our own personal opinion, we felt the orange version of the Imperial Torte at our hotel was far fitting to our palettes. Then we walked across the street to second most famous opera house in the world (after Paris); the Wiener Staatsoper or the Vienna State Opera House. It is the most iconic building in all Vienna with its famous copper winged horses and riders representing Harmony and Poetry. The Opera House was our North Star during our stay in the city. But back inside, we scaled the marble stairs and marveled at the six levels of balconies. The ambiance was amazing. Since my brother and I are hearing impaired, we couldn’t tell you about the sound quality, but I’m told it’s incomparable. Due to our aversion to any theatrical love story, given our personal recent tragedies in that department, as well as the fact we are brother and sister . . . we opted to see Rigoletto. Murder and revenge? Yes, please. Being Type-A, I read the synopsis prior to the opening curtain. My brother scoffed at the idea. He felt it a personal challenge of art and the viewer to convey what needed to be conveyed that transcends language. He picked up the plot just fine, but didn’t know the names, so later he referred to the them as “that one guy with the cloak,” “the fat guy,” “the main dude,” etc. The titular role was played by Carlos Alvarez and he was phenomenal! Once my brother figured out the ending of the opera, he huffed “Oh for God’s sake, just die already.” But as the emotional moment was stretched out, my brother teared up and I was openly crying. The standing ovation went on for an hour, we left 15 minutes after because our hands were getting sore from clapping. My brother was really hyped about the whole performance, the set design with minimalist-chiaroscuro was a new take with VERY dramatic results. The costumes gave off an Alexander McQueen vibe. But my brother effused about Rigoletto/Carlos. “That guy was AMAZING! I would watch him play in anything. Hell, I would watch that man make a SANDWHICH!” –Needless, to say, Darin was blown away.
The following we day, we traverse the city and headed toward the National Library. As a librarian, I feel almost obligated to go visit these national wonders. I also just love walking in and saying “Hey, I’m a librarian too!” and watch their eyes light up as they get all excited that one from their foreign tribes has stopped by for a visit. The generosity always amazes me. Thus said, there is still protocol. The phrase is not exactly keys to the city, but once in Spain they let me peek into one of the rooms closed off to the public (I was never allowed to enter, but I’ll take what I can get). In this case in Vienna it was a hug, but also an apology that today was the only day for strict researchers and not open to the public. This occurs once a week.–Figures. Again, walking around the city was delightful. The Inner Ring is akin to any posh neighborhood. It was like a catwalk for a cross section of humanity.
On Sunday, Darin and I got all gussied up to attend Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The premiere cathedral of Vienna’s Inner Ring. I wore my red dress with tights and my brother re-wore his suit with a red tie. The building was enormous, ornate, and very cold. I wore a veil over my hair in the archaic tradition. Neither of us are Catholic, but we thought we’d pay our respects and ruminate over what brought us here to this point in our lives. Together, no less. There was no choir present, but the organ music reverberated in my bones, the stain glass windows lit up in their glory and the lone church singer basically put on an opera worthy performance. It was very moving.
On our last day in Vienna we headed south to the Belvedere Art Museum and grabbed a bite to eat afterwards. The Belvedere took almost four hours to get through, not including the walk through the barren gardens to get to the building. It was January after all. My brother made an interesting observation, in the philosophy that is distinctly his own. While he loved seeing Napoleon on his white charger, the Klimts, and a photo realistic still life, that almost got him in trouble with the docents as he was inspecting it. He believe art museums such as these are the improper way to view art. It should not be about 4 billion pieces of fabulous and famous art jammed together. The best way to appreciate art is more of a gallery model of maybe 20 or fewer pieces, so the viewer can fully appreciate, study, and emotionally connect with an item. A museum makes the person tired and weary, all art blurring together to the point you forget what you saw, even if you can claim to see a Klimt in person, what good is having the other thousand pieces in the building for?? The man does have a point, thus said, I don’t foresee grand museums going the way of the dinosaur quite yet.
Just twenty meters away from the entrance to the grounds lays the best restaurant in Austria (right up there with Café Imperial). We kicked ourselves for not finding this Salm Brau sooner. We shared a smoked veal ham appetizer of some kind that had an amazing smokiness to it. I had Chicken Cordon Bleu which was as flattened to be as big as my head we the best potato salad known to man. It was unlike any cold potato salad my brother and I ever had and we “shared” it by stabbing each other with forks as we tried to take more for ourselves. My brother had the Farmer’s Delight with almost a dozen different types of meat, which I sampled, and some cabbage side. Heavenly. Truly. The place is a brewery, so of course I ordered a coke since I am not a beer drinker. Another word to the wise, soda in Europe are no where near as sweet as they are in America. No wonder people overseas think we empty a vat of sugar in everything we drink (because we do!). If we knew about this place and there very good looking wait staff (Seriously, does one have to be an aspiring male model to work there? Even the women are ridiculously beautiful and all unassuming, as they tend to be.) we would have eaten at Salm Brau EVERY night, no joke.
I am not going to lie, the vacation was not all rainbows and unicorns. On the third day, I broke down and cried because this was supposed to be my honeymoon with my husband and here I am with my brother . . . But I learn so much about my brother and reconnected on a more mature level. In the end, it was a wonderful trip and I felt more peaceful coming back, knowing that chapter is official closed and I can move forward.