Immediately following our bacchanalian breaking of fast we took the tram to Karlzplatz in the center of town. Ok, first things first. Vienna is beautiful. Salzburg was nice and the fortress is different and intriguing, but Vienna is just a lovely town with exquisit architecture, statuary at every turn, museums every few blocks, palaces, art, history, and culture.
The first stop we made was to the Museum quarter, which is a large block of the city dedicated to several art museums. There's the Modern Art Museum, the Leopold Gallery, the Art History museum and several other smaller outcroppings thereof. We had jumped the gun a little bit, as the museum quarter doesn't actually open until 10:00 and we arrived at 9:15, so we walked across the street to the Maria-Theresien Platz, which is flanked by the Natural History museum and the Art History Museum. Both of those twin-buildings are nice to look at but both are also half-scaffolded for construction. Still, you can sort of squint and pretend.
At 10:00 we returned to the ticket office, got our 2-museum passes and went into the Modern Art Museum. My father has had a craving for viewing some more modern exhibits, so we decided to skip the art history museum (hey, sometimes you have to take one for the team.) I have to say, and I'm sure my father will read this some day...but I thought most of the modern art museum was disappointing. There are a few examples of modern art I find interesting, particularly a few works by Warhol that were fascinating to see in real life, but on the whole, I find modern art to be pretentious and self-serving, and this museum didn't help improve on that position.
There were 3 exhibits -- the first was an exhibit on modern fashion which held a few moments of interest, including a clearly very recent piece with the words "Freedom to Pussy Riot" plastered over a dress. For the unitiated, the awkwardly named "Pussy Riot" is a Russian all-female punk band, several members of which were recently arrested by the Russian government for "hooliganism", which essentially means they were bad mouthing Putin and the Russian Orthodoxy. The story has brought up a lot of talk about freedom of speech in Europe and the former Soviet states.
The second exhibit was a multimedia installation by David Ter-Oganyan on social issues. The installation consisted of several projectors cycling through extremely crude drawings that looked like they were made either on smart phones or in Microsoft Paint. There was an electronic music soundtrack playing over the flashing images. It...sorry, it just seemed like a bunch of crap to me. I could see the political commentary he was trying to make, but it was hard to look past the absolutely lack of subtlety or structure or style.
The third exhibit was the most polarizing for me. It was an exhibit on 60's pop art, some of which I find interesting (there was a particularly good Lichtenstein, a fantastic Jaspar Johns, and a few Warhols that were great), and some of which I find to be total rubbish (anything that David Hockney ever touched.) I'm not disappointed that we went there for the few gems of the collection, but ugh...the rest.
After we finished up there, we walked 500 meters south to the Leopold Museum. Here there are two permanent exhibitions and two transient exhibitions. The two permanent exhibitions are the metamorphosis of the artist Egon Schiele from his early work to immediately before his death, and a collection of Viennese art from the early 1900s. The Schiele exhibit is really good. He was a great artist, a typically tormented soul and a formitable student of Gustav Klimt.
The Vienna in the 1900 exhibition was difficult to pin down, mostly because striding atop the exhibit currently is an absolutely splendid exhibition of the work of Gustav Kilmt, Vienna's most prodigious 20th century painter. This collection was breathtaking, particularly the large reproductions of his "Faculty Paintings" which were originally created for the ceiling of the University of Vienna (to many outraged cries of indecency and pornography.) The highlight of this particular exhibit was Klimt's masterpiece "Death and Life".
After slaking our thirst for art museums, we decided to appease our appetites for palaces with a trip down the road to the Schloss Belvedere. Belvedere is acutally two palaces with a large lawn betwixt them -- The Upper Belvedere and the Lower Belvedere. We procured a ticket to both, but we only managed to see Upper Belvedere today. Lower Belvedere will have to wait until Wednesday, as the entire palace is closed to the public on Monday and Tuesday.
Upper Belvedere has been turned almost entirely into a large art gallery. Each of its wings are dedicated to particular time period from Medieval to early 20th century. There is a large marble foyer and grand staircase leading up to an opulent dark marble hall. A lot of the accenture is heavily gilded in typically Hapsburgian fashion.
Aside from the great examples of both Baroque and Romantic painting, my favorite exhibition in the Belvedere hides within a small atrium on the second floor -- it's a circle of busts by the sculptor Franz Xavier Messerschmidt depicting various comically posed faces in the throes of emotion. The animator in me finds them to be great examples of extreme facial posing. The eleven year old in me finds them amusing because it looks like a ring of old men trying desperately to use the toilet in the middle of an extravagant palace atrium.
The other spectacular jewel in the crown of the Belvedere's collection is *its* collection of Klimt paintings, including his most famous work "The Kiss" and my personal favorite of his "Judith." Both are amazing in person. "The Kiss" practically glows with inner light and the true gold gilding on "Judith" can only be really experienced in the flesh. On top of the terrific collection of paintings at the palace, quite literally, are the ceiling frescos, one of which (the aptly-named "painted" room) is a great example of false perspective.
By the time we finished Upper Belvedere we needed to stop and refuel. We took the tram back to the Opera House -- that is to say we would have taken the tram to the opera house, but the tram before us broke down on the tracks halfway there and we had to hoof it the rest of the way. We stopped at the Cafe Schwarzenberg and, lamenting the slow service, had a beer and food. Dad had a Wienerschnitzel and I had Tafelspitz. Tafelspitz is boiled beef, and as unappetizing as that sounds, it's really quite good. It has the texture and even the flavor of prime rib and was served with, as usual, a warm potatoe salad and some root veggies, along with a nice apple-horseradish sauce and a dill-cream sauce.
Afterwards, just so I could check it off my 'list of things I have to eat' mind you, I had Bucht'ln -- a sweet yeast roll filled with apricot preserves and served with vanilla custard. So far, it's been my favorite dessert, though I'll grant you I haven't tried many desserts yet.
By the time we finished dinner it was around 7:30 and Dad was feeling the walks. I must admit my knee had tricked out a few times today and I was feeling the walks too, though my chest cold has subsided quite a bit. That was an unexpected blessing as it has persisted on raining all day and I was worried that the inclimate weather would slow my recovery.
So we returned to the hotel room and we'll rest up for tomorrow. Tomorrow we're going to the famous Schoneburg Palace, the Hopfburg, the Vienna Treasury, St. Stefan's Cathedral, the archeological museum and the Hapsburg royal crypt, all of which lie within a block of each other. It should be a pretty full day.