The Most Famous Kiss in the World

Have you ever wondered why we say “God Bless You” when someone sneezes? Well, brace yourself, because I have the answer. It’s because of the Bubonic Plague. Also known as the ‘Black Death’, it swept Europe in the 1300’s killing roughly a third of Europe’s population. It was caused by a flea-carrying bacteria, and the symptoms were quick and harsh – first sign being ‘sneezing’, followed by lumps (buboes), pneumonia and then death – all within three days. Vienna’s city square is home to the Pestsaule, also known as the Plague Column, which was erected to celebrate the end of the plague in Vienna.

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Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) is nearby.  It’s a magnificent gothic structure, surrounded by old horse drawn carriages and fake Mozarts (complete with sneakers) selling concert tickets.  Inside, it’s just as incredible.  It’s the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna.  The current church stands on the site of two previous churches, the first of which was competed in the 12th century, and is where the funeral of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi was held in 1741.

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Painted in the early 1900’s, ‘The Kiss’ depicts a couple, elaborately robed, embracing. He’s planting a tender kiss on the side of her face. She looks comforted and loved. It’s composed of oil paint with layers of gold leaf applied. And the original is housed in Belvedere Palace. I’m dying to see it.

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It feels ethereal, it radiates an opulence of life and it emanates the warmth of love. I can’t really even describe it because it’s more of a feeling you get when you look at it, rather than a spoken judgement.  The only disappointment is the way the painting is framed, almost as though the frame cuts the painting off, which is a shame.

There are a lot of other artworks in here, including more stunning pieces from Klimt, as well as sculptures.  The rooms in which these paintings and pieces are housed are magnificent.  Huge domed ceilings with elaborate plaster carvings, mostly of cupid like cherubs and gold leaves, and massive chandeliers hanging from them.  Just stunning.

Back on the U-bahn, this time to Schonbrunn Palace.  But I think there’s been enough castles and palaces on this tour, so I’m here for an entirely different reason – the Strudelshow.  The recipe they use here is over 300 years old and they’ll show you how they do it for €4.80.  Heck, they even give you the recipe.  And there’s a strudel hotline you can call if something goes wrong with your strudel at home.  The photos speak for themselves, but as you can see their pastry is so thin, you can read through it.

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The magic apple filling all prepped and ready to go.
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Stretching the pastry.
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So bouncy it’s like elastic!
So thin, you can read through it!
So thin, you can read through it!

 

And now for the filling!
And now for the filling!
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And voila! The finished product!

And the strudel?  Well, it’s the best I’ve ever had.

Last stop of the day for me was the Kunsthaus Wien (Art House of Vienna) where 220 pairs of experimental shoes awaits me.  The exhibition, titled Shoeting Stars, contemplates shoes as a ‘design objects that make their own autonomous statement’ and I can tell you these shoes do just that.  There are shoes with teeth (as in human teeth) on the bottom, shoes with anima hooves on the bottom, shoes with feathers, shoes with hair on them (think plaits) and even one particularly gory pair of shoes that had a set of bloody toes attached to it.  You can’t take photos (very unfortunately), but below are some of the designs:

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The pair in the middle are called ‘suicide shoes’.  Hmmm.

Speaking of shoes, my feet are now killing me, having trekked all over the city today, and I’m ready to go back to the hotel to take mine off!

In the Dark

Imagine you are blind.  Totally blind.  Every day is a new exploration.  The tiniest things are an obstacle to overcome.  How do you tell which money you are handing over?  How do you navigate pubic transport?  More so, how would you travel abroad and explore a new country?

Most of us take our sight for granted.  On holidays, we go from sight to sight, snapping away with our cameras, taking it all in with our eyes.  But what if you were one of those people that for one reason or another, was blind?  Well, this afternoon in Vienna, that’s what we were about to discover.

Vienna is currently playing host to an exhibition called Dialogue in the Dark:  Losing Sight of Daily Routine.  The point of this exhibition is not to see anything, with your eyes at least.  We have a small group of seven, five of us from the tour and two locals.  We are introduced to our guide Esther, and given canes to choose from.  Then the fun begins.

We are led through completely darkened rooms, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face, with nothing but our canes, our hands and our trust in Esther to get us through.  We are holidaying to different parts of the world – first we are in a rainforest in South America, then near the Andes.  We cross bridges and feel rocky outcrops under our feet.  Next we are in Peru, using our hands to feel shrunken heads and totem poles, speakers providing the aural backdrop of Peruvian chanting.  There’s also a boat ride.  We are guided to our seats, you can hear the ocean, and seagulls calling.  The boat starts up, it sounds like a fishing boat, and it rocks side to side simulating waves.  Off the boat, we finish up in a bar where we order drinks (real), with our money (real) all in the dark (very real).  Another, larger group joins us and soon, the bar is as noisy as any bar would be on a Saturday night – a very real glimpse into what a normal night out would be if this was your world.

This is the end of our trip, and we leave the bar back out into our vision intoned world, much more grateful for our sight.  Luckily we have that luxury.

This exhibition was absolutely brilliant.  An extremely eye-opening (no pun intended) experience, in which you have to rely on your other, now heightened, senses to prepare for what’s coming next.  Every step is filled with the intrepidation or anticipation of what’s about to ‘appear’.   The guides are either blind or visually impaired and there are exhibitions around the world.  For more information, head to the website http://www.dialogue-in-the-dark.com/.

Afterwards, Matt, myself and another group member Gill, head to the Prater.  The Prater is Vienna’s permanent amusement park.  It’s old-school quaint and there’s all sorts of rides and a massive beer garden in the middle.  So we finish our day in Vienna how it started….in the dark.

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