Kapitel Eins und Zwei
I really don't know where to begin to relate all the experiences I've had over the past month or so. Where to begin? I would love to be able to relay all the sights and sounds of Vienna, Prague, London, Oxford and such here. But I will try my best and attempt to highlight the greatest parts of my trip.
As my good friend and travel buddy Kate related in her wonderful blog posting, Vienna was a delightful place. After learning about it in two of my courses it was pretty incredible to be able to walk around the Ringstrasse. I really didn't get a feeling of paranoia or disorientation or whatever I was supposed to feel according to Andreas Huyssen while walking along.
The highlight of my trip was definitely, without a doubt, seeing Tristan and Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper for 2 Euros in the standing room at the top back gallery. The opera house itself is gorgeous, and the music was perfect. I wasn't a huge fan of the simplistic and understated inscenerierung but when I closed my eyes to the music, the hairs on my skin fairly stood on end--I'll never forget the very last aria from Isolde as she asks the waves to swallow her and her thwarted love. All very kitschy and classically Wagnerian, but I really really loved it.
It goes without saying that the art in Vienna was incredible. Kate and I checked off all the classic must-sees: Klimt's The Kiss in the Obere Belvedere, Raphael's Madonna of the fields in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, but what really left an impression on me was Correggio's Jove and Io. Literally breathtaking.
Dominik was of course a great host. I think his excellent hospitality was wholly responsible for my great experience--he and his friends are the total opposite of what most people think of as Viennese (namely: snobby, proud, etc. etc.). I was struck by how friendly and worldy and intelligent all of them were. I left Vienna with a greater love for its culture--they are a small country, and politically completely unimportant, and their main contribution to the world consists of sachertorte and music composed by dead white men--oh but what wonderful music! and what wonderful sachertorte!
It was certainly interesting traveling alone for the very first time. It was wonderful nonetheless because I truly got to appreciate the kindness of strangers. Maybe it was because I was a girl and alone, but every day while I was there I managed to meet an English-speaker and my spasms of loneliness would all of a sudden dissipate.
I learned a lot from my Prague journey--about how to handle navigating the streets (as anyone who knows me would know, I am completely hopeless with directions), and how to be more adventurous but safe and street-savvy at the same time, and how to be my own best traveling companion. My hostel, Miss Sophie's Prague, was gorgeous and the staff were friendly, and my roomates were totally agreeable. It was also incredibly cheap.
Prague was fun in a completely different way from Vienna. Its Old City and Jewish Quarter look like a storybook town and is strikingly situated over the Moldau. The topography of the city simply takes your breath away. The first time I saw the Prague Castle was at night when I befriended a family randomly at a restaurant my first night. They led me to the Charles Bridge where I saw the river all lit up and and the lamps winking across the water. It was so perfectly romantic. I guess that's when my loneliness really hit me hard. There are moments when I love being alone, especially when I'm in museums or sometimes when I'm shopping for a very specific thing, but moments like walking across the Charles Bridge at night and looking at a gorgeous view should be shared with someone.
On the other hand, I now feel like I can tackle being by myself for extended periods of time. I especially loved the train rides actually--speeding past the Dr. Zhivago-esque, snow covered landscapes...lots of room for contemplation and musing in my journal, something I don't do enough of at all. I definitely swung between poles of loneliness and happiness at my independence--mostly the latter, but the first night there I was pretty scared at being alone in a city in which I don't speak the language and don't know a soul. But overall I felt pretty safe in Prague, as it's not a dodgy place (at least not the parts I went out in). Americans abroad definitely do tend to band together. I gotta say, I appreciated that in the Czech Republic.
I bought a copy of Milan Kundera's Immortality at this great little English bookstore in my favorite part of Prague, the Lesser Quarter. As I took the train to Bratislava from Prague for my flight back to London, I passed the town of Brno, where he was born. I noted the exact time and date that I was there in the front cover of my book. I thought that was appropriate for Kundera--how the axes of our lives happen to crisscross at that moment in time, how much of a coincidence or how much it wasn't. For that same reason I bought Kafka in Prague and von Hofmannsthal in Vienna. Those authors ground their work so much in the psyche of their cities that one just HAS to buy their books in those cities. It reminded me of all those crumbling paperbacks in our bookshelves at home that my dad bought in Europe, particularly a copy of The Years that my dad purchased for 71p in an Oxford garage sale in 1972. I hope my children can also appreciate my 2006 copy of the Reclam von Hofmannsthal book I bought, one day.
London and Oxford will have to wait for another day. I've been sitting in this cafe on Bergmannstrasse in Berlin for about four hours now and I need to hör auf. More pictures and notes later.