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An American Abroad: A Quick Jaunt Through Venice and Vienna

This is the twelveth in a weekly series that was planned to cover my travels until the end of June. Unfortunately, I had a bit of an accident, and it has delayed the writing process a little. The series chronicles my travels in Europe and the interesting things I came upon or wished someone had told me before I left. I spent three weeks on a rail and boat trip that ended in Budapest. This article covers the second leg of that journey. 

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Venice

I came into Venice bleary eyed and stuffy eared, freshly gross off of a night train from Paris. Shouldering my bags, I set off in search of my hostel. I soon found that using directions from Google Maps was useless. All the streets seemed to have different names or were unmarked. Reluctantly, I turned on my GPS and tracked myself all the way to the hostel. After a much needed shower I set off to see Venice.

I only spent a couple days in Venice, which was far from enough, but already I could tell it was a surreally gorgeous tourist trap. Although I didn’t see any of the gondoliers poling the green water of the canals actually singing like they do in the movies, nearly everyone seemed to be a tourist and I heard American accents everywhere I went. The streets were a GPS defying urban hedge maze that begged you wander them and get lost in the best way. Venice is nearly entirely a pedestrian city, its lanes too narrow to allow anything bigger than a handcart, and it is small enough to be easily walkable.

Sight seeing: Piazzo San Marco and museums– The plaza is gorgeous to see even without going into the museums and pretty buildings that make it up. If you decide you want to go in, you can buy a museum pass for 15 Euros at the entrance to the museums which lets you into all the museums housed within that building as well as San Marco Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace. The museums are kind of hit and miss but the Palace is well worth the visit. Be careful in the Palace dungeon, they can be confusing, I went around them a good two or three times before I figured out how to get out of there.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection– In interesting contrast with the old world beauty of the city, this museum houses modern art, focusing a lot on the abstract and surreal elements of that category. It is a bit expensive, but most places in Venice are, and the Collection is quite nice, especially the special exhibit up now: For Your Eyes Only.
Contini Galleria D’arte– A small modern art gallery by the Campo Santo Stefano, it’s free to enter and had some really cool artists exhibited when I stopped in.                                                                                                                                                                                             Museo delia Musica– Located in the Chiesa di San Maurizio which is down the alley from the Contini Galleria. Free to enter, it features all kinds of beautifully kept musical instruments and strangely decaying religious statues. While not large, it is definitely worth it to duck in and explore for a bit, especially for classical music fans.                                                                                                   Note: Many churches and museums in the city had a bit of a dress code, restricting people who were wearing skimpy clothing like shorts and tank tops, so keep that in mind when picking your outfit for a day of exploring.

Eating: Alfredo’s Pasta To Go– A tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant, this pasta place is a little hard to find, but not far from the Plazzo San Marco. It is well worth the effort to find it. The pasta, served in a over flowing white Chinese food type take away box, is fresh and handmade, with only in-season ingredients.

Staying: Friendly Venice- A hostel that lives up to its name, Friendly Venice is a nice little place with a lovely staff and an adorable kitty. Located in Campo Santo Stefano, it is very centrally located, if a little hard to find and a bit far from the train station. It’s great place to stay—if you’re female. The hostel is ladies only, [sorry guys] which is kind of reassuring for a woman travelling alone in a country notorious for very forward and persistent men. Though, I have to say, Venice is so tourist saturated that I didn’t encounter that at all.

There are a couple ways to get to Vienna from Venice; I decided to take the longer scenic route. This meant going to Verona by way of Innsbruck to Vienna, and involved three separate trains. It was exhausting to do all in one day, but the views were amazing, especially on the train between Verona and Innsbruck where the train took us through the Alps and the landscape seemed too beautiful to be real. Once you get to Austria, keep an eye out for the graffiti art along the train stations. Austria has some of the most interesting word-based street art I’ve ever seen.

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Vienna:

I came to Vienna at the end of a long day, it was getting past dinnertime, the sun was nowhere near setting and Google Maps was acting up. I crossed the street carefully, avoiding jaywalking following a warning from a friend in Venice that Austrians actually enforced the rules of the road—with stringent fines. Hungry, I bought what turned out to be the worst falafel I had ever eaten and made my way to my hotel. After the Mediterranean island glow of Venice, Vienna was a sharply urban contrast: grey streets, musicians busking with instruments ranging from a double bass to accordions to what looked like the freakishly large and triangular offspring of a banjo, and awesome street art, all of it overlaid by the still fading ghost of the Habsburg Empire.

Sightseeing: MuseumsQuartier– Located in the center of the city, the Museumsquartier contains all the big famous museums in Vienna. The area is very scenic, even without going into the museums themselves.
Leopold Museum– Part of the MuseumsQuartier, this museum’s collection is mostly focused on modern art of the first half of the 20th century. It’s quite a nice collection and their Klimt selection is probably only second to the Klimt museum. Suggested selections: Line & Form- an interesting exploration of drawing as a medium and a stepping-stone. Runs until 10/20/2014. Any work by Gustav Klimt, especially Death and Life. Also keep an eye out for work by Egon Schiele, an Austrian artist whose work goes through an interesting evolution especially after his service in WWI.
Kunsthistorisches Museum– Vienna’s famous fine arts museum, the Kunsthistorisches is lavish and unpronounceable, earning me a couple of barely restrained eye rolls when I tried to say its name. The collection is quite extensive, especially on the religious art and neo classical portraiture. It’s a very old school kind of museum but has a pretty impressive amount of old masters like Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, Velázquez, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Suggested selections: The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Art of Painting by Jan Vermeer, and the paintings over the arches of the stairway by Gustav Klimt.

Going Out: Wiener Staatsoper [Vienna State Opera]– Opera is a big deal in Vienna, every night the Staatsoper is packed and the President of Austria frequently comes to take in a show. Tickets can go from 10-240 Euros, but if you’re willing to wait in line for a couple hours, you can get standing room tickets for 3 or 4 Euros. Just be sure to mark your spot on the railing. If you get nicer tickets, make sure you dress nicely and plan in advance. I got a good ticket at the last minute, which was awesome, but the frantic last minute dress shopping in a strange town with a limited budget, wasn’t. The show, Tosca, however was fantastic and totally worth the near panic attack I had. The sets, costumes, and lighting were lavish and beautiful. The performances though, blew that all out of the water. A live orchestra buoyed the spectacular voices of the singers and together they made the three hours and three acts fly by. And to top it off, if you get seats, there little screens that translate the lyrics into English or German, which really helps you keep track of the plot. If you do nothing else in Vienna, go to the opera.

That’s it for Venice and Vienna. If you visit either of these gorgeous cities, stay longer than two days. You need at least a week to get past the normal touristy parts and actually get into the reality of the city itself.

Well, now I’m on my way to my last stop: Budapest.

Until then, Ciao!

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