Still getting a lot of traction from travel notebooks and photographs from the distant past, revisiting places online, related art and artists. It is incredible how much can be packed into a short visit when time and resources are limited and yet still learn a lot. The memories of encounters with great art still inspirational, the significance of travel experience not to be underestimated. Another one for the archive, memory bank, and reference collection.
Overnight train from Zurich, Switzerland to Vienna, Austria in first week May 1980, arrived early morning. Sorted out accommodation and wandered, first impressions lots of theatres and music, beautiful jaded old city back then with flashes of past splendour. Next day visited the famous Spanish Riding School, dressage show, the horses true actors, superb music, chandeliers. Freezing cold rain, refuge in an old cafe straight from the 19th century, waiters in bow ties, elderly smoking cigars. Then onto a tour of the Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper), then to Stadtpark, an afternoon of Johann Strauss music in the tea rooms, soaking up the atmosphere, transported momentarily to another age, but thought there would be mass casualties when The Blue Danube was played, the dance floor packed with waltzing couples. Now that I’m probably at the lower end of their age range, I can emphasize with a bit of nostalgia, and can imagine a dance floor for breakdancing elders trying out their titanium hips and knees in the not too far distant future. After that waltzed down the road to the Viennese equivalent of a pub in 13th century catacombs, with mugs of red wine served with rye bread and cheese. Next day, again in freezing rain walked to Leopold’s Café then back to the Opera House to get our bearings on where we would be standing for that night’s performance, lined up early evening for bargain tickets, my first experience of opera, and where better to start. A Welsh chemistry professor standing next to us provided detailed instructions about saving a spot, but there was still a mad rush up the stairs, then once inside tied our scarves to the rail where we would be standing for that night’s performance of the Barber of Seville, great value, opera for the price a of a cup of coffee, even if we had to stand for the entire performance. To get to know the city, the next day wandered around in search of the house where Beethoven wrote Symphony No. 9, but alas when located it was, at that time, a massage parlour, but at least the walk there was interesting. Caught the train to the Danube River which wasn’t very blue due to the overcast sky. Stopped off at the fair and then caught the train back into the city. Went to the opera again, fantastic performance of Richard Strauss’ Electra, much more theatrical than the previous evening, the audience went wild at the end, clapping, whistling, stamping feet. Next day, on such a steep cultural learning curve we ploughed on to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and a major art experience including a range of old masters including Bruegel, Rubens, Rembrandt. Walked back past the Hofburg. Walked onto the Opera Museum, wonderful collection of photographs and costumes, designs from the 1920s, then onto Stadtpark to do some writing in the travel notebook, while listening to Strauss amongst the tulips, birds, peacocks, freshly cut grass, pansies, watching the ambling parade of the debutants of the 1930s. Later that evening onto Grinzing, beer gardens everywhere, charming quaint buildings, drinking mugs of red wine to the sound of a piano accordion.
Next day caught a train to across the border to Budapest, Hungary, arriving early afternoon. Major contrast to the experience of the previous few days. First impression, grime, few goods in the shops, although the handcrafts were impressive, still part of the Eastern Block countries in 1980. Dinner in a non-descript rumpled restaurant, old hotel 1920s, faded glory of a former era, wood panelling, marble, huge staircase, dust on the chandeliers, an offbeat orchestra, all seemed to be playing independently of one another, then a terrible racket of gypsy folk music. Only one other table of diners in a huge area. Spent the night in private accommodation. At that time when you arrived in Hungary your accommodation had to be arranged for you, luckily we followed the approved procedures, allocated accommodation as required, registration on arrival at the railway station. Given the address and somehow found an 8-9 storey apartment block in a sea of apartment blocks in the suburbs. Just how we found it a miracle, even with some help from locals who also had difficulty in locating it. Basic accommodation in a family’s living room, an education on how most of the population lived. The family were not expecting us but were required to accommodate us for the night, must have been punishment for some crime or misdemeanour. Next day bus to the River Danube, found some sort of ceremony in progress, full band with a heavy military presence, but spectacular view through the smog, haze, black clouds, grey scale day. Then back to the railway, queues everywhere in the shops. Caught early afternoon train back to Vienna, still coming to terms with the experience of the previous two days, stark contrast, from the train the countryside magnificent, even saw some deer, but modern technology had not reached the farming sector, ploughing with horses, horse drawn carts, then by complete contrast a train heading in the opposite direction loaded with military equipment and a count of 13 tanks, military seemed to be a heavy presence wherever we went. Arriving back in Vienna a relief, like coming home, the difference between the two cities difficult to comprehend. Caught another train that night to Trieste, Italy.
Stadtpark, Vienna, 6/5/1980
Ludwig van Beethoven, Vienna, 6/5/1980
The Bridge, Budapest, 9/5/1980
The Danube, Budapest, 9/5/1980
Austria has produced some interesting modern painters including Gustav Klimt, renowned shocking decorative symbolist society artist, Egon Schiele (protégé of Gustav Klimt) figurative works ‘anguished line work, magnetic nudes and contorted figures’, and Oskar Kokoschka, exceptional expressionist.
Gustav Klimt, Music 1, 1895
Gustav Klimt, Judith II, 1909
Gustav Klimt, Avenue of Schloss Kammer Park, 1912
Gustav Klimt, Malcesine on Lake Garda, 1913
Egon Schiele, House Between Trees I, 1908
Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Black Vase and Spread Fingers, 1911
Oskar Kokoschka, Children Playing, 1909
Oskar Kokoschka, Knight Errant (Self-Portrait), 1915
Oskar Kokoschka, View of the Thames, 1959
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
A couple of favourites
Pieter Bruegel, Hunters in the Snow, 1565
Peter Paul Rubens, Philemon and Baucis 1620-25
Rembrandt, Self Portrait, 1657
Gustav Klimt, Alessandra Comini, 1975
The Guggenheim Museum Collection 1900-1980, Handbook, Vivian Endicott Barnett, 1980
The Story of Art, E. H. Gombrich, 1972