I found that the perfect recipe for our class trip to Vienna, Austria and Venice, Italy included sundresses, palaces, art museums, and gondolas. We heard from study abroad groups past that this was “THE Trip” of this program, and we couldn’t wait to get started.
We left the dorms bright-eyed and ready to start our two-week spring break. Jan retrieved us from the dorms with a surprise. His son, Damian, would be joining us on our adventures. Damian is twelve and his job was to count us regularly to make sure we were all together. I am surprised that one of us hadn’t been assigned that job earlier, honestly. Damian made sure that 26 of us were on the bus and we were off.
The four hours to Vienna flew by. The countryside was gorgeous heading south to Austria. The bus ride went something just like this: sleep for 30 minutes, write three postcards (I still have a problem with buying way too many), and wake up Faviola and Zach to say hi. (I would have talked to Jenny, but she was out the entire trip). Repeat.
I looked forward to our hostel experience because in the past they have always been an interesting time . Our room at this particular hostel included a kitchen area, a private bathroom, two single beds, a double bed, a set of bunk beds, an extra mattress against the wall (for mattress surfing the stairs??), and spare desks and closet units. The furniture had character, however the artwork on the walls was my favorite feature. It was an abstract piece depicting a deer being gutted by a primitive tribe. I imagined that every room looked something just like this. Welcome to Vienna, everyone.
Jan and Damian gave us a quick glimpse of Vienna and the highlights we would be able to explore in depth the next day. I was immediately in awe of the area. It was not what I was expecting at all. Near our hostel it was extremely modern and reminded me something just like the Magnificent Mile in Chicago! There were an overwhelming amount of trendy clothing stores and other shops. As it was getting close to lunch, we noticed the area was not long on restaurants. We split up to see what we could find.
Kelsey, Nick, Paige, Sheyenne, and I found a spot after a little help from google maps. I know we are supposed to try new things and step out of our box, but sometimes a girl just needs a classic club sandwich that was something just like this:
We reconvened and ventured further down the street into Old Towne. Once again, I was blown away. There were amazing buildings on the skyline everywhere you looked. Everything from art museums, history museums, city hall, and other government buildings. My favorite view right off the bat was standing in the middle of a courtyard between Kunsthistorisches (art) Museum and the Museum of Natural History of Vienna.
Our class found our way to Saint Stephan’s Cathedral. The outside was so unique. The tiles on the roof were in a blue, yellow, white, and green chevron pattern. It was not what I expected, but it stood out from the rest. The inside was spectacular and there were even catacombs that you could tour underneath. We learned how to spot Gothic and Romanesque architecture when we see it, and this Cathedral has both. The towers and pulpit reflect Gothic style while the windows and alters were more Romanesque.
Jan and Damian also lead us to the Imperial Treasury for a quick tour. Jan was an amazing guide through the numerous displays. Treasures from the House of Habsburg were displayed here. We have been learning a lot about the Habsburgs in class and seeing their palaces and portraits helped make a connection to information. The jewels and robes were gorgeous and I can’t imagine wearing them.
The day went by quickly and it was starting to get dark. Jenny, Zach, Faviola, and I wanted to see all of the buildings lit up at night so stalled at a few souvenir shops. We made our way back to the hostel and marveled at the buildings on our way. The city had such a different tone at night. The fountains came to life and the buildings glowed. Once again, I was in love with yet another city. Hard to believe that people live there and get to see something just like every day!
The next morning, we had to make a tough choice. We couldn’t go to both the art museum and the natural history museum. I chose the art side of the street, and I was not disappointed in my decision. The Egyptian exhibit was by far my favorite. Even though a lot of the pieces were in ruins, they were still impressive works. There was everything from paintings on walls to coffins that depicted stories and culture. What I was taking in looked something just like this:
After we had taken in all of the art we could appreciate for one morning, we were set free in Vienna to explore whatever we wanted. Dr. Biggs joined us for lunch and afterwards we wanted to pick up a few postcards (shocker, I know). One in particular caught my eye. It was a huge building with a reflecting pool in front. I asked Dr. Biggs what it was and he told me that it was Belvedere Palace, yet another Habsburg property in the day. He asked me if I wanted to see it in person. Dr. Biggs, is the sky blue? We had a free afternoon and Belvedere was a short Uber ride away! (I really miss America, but I will miss being able to impulsively explore new cities).
The five of us piled into an Uber and arrived at the front gates of the palace. It was even better than the postcard! I was so excited to see it in person. I didn’t realize it was an art museum on the inside that housed Austrian native Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” painting that we had been seeing all over town. I couldn’t believe we just happened upon seeing it! Such a happy accident, for sure. Belvedere is home to many other works by other Austrian artists and Monet, who found inspiration in Vienna for several pieces. An excited tourist looks something just like this:
Our time in Vienna was drawing to a close and it was time to move out of our hostel and start the next adventure to Venice. As Jenny and I were hauling our suitcases out the door, we decided to be lazy and take the elevator since we were on the fourth floor. Our laziness paid off because while we were waiting for the elevator, we heard a crash come from the staircase. Bre had missed a step on the steep winding staircase and twisted her ankle. To be on the safe side, we took her to the emergency room to get her ankle looked at. Our seven-hour trip just got extended to nine. We are a flexible group and we were relieved that Bre was cleared by the doctor. We didn’t really need something just like this to happen.
Spring was spreading and towns were starting to turn green. Even through the pouring rain, the small towns and fields looked beautiful. However, it is at times like these where I miss flat Nebraska because I am not used to driving through so many mountains.
The knots in my neck from sleeping on the bus were well worth it when I caught my first glimpse of Venice. I didn’t want to listen to the hype about this place just because I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high and be let down. I was completely blown away. It is absolutely like nothing I have seen before and probably will never see again. A city of islands all connected by walking bridges. Rarely did we see a car. Water taxis, boats, and of course gondolas were all that were used.
Other Venice adventures included visiting Saint Mark’s Square, cruising on a gondola, testing fruit smoothie cocktails, buying more postcards, eating seafood outside by a canal, visiting our favorite gelato shop more times than we will admit, and finally all meeting back at the hostel to say our goodbyes before we all dispersed for a week.
Of all the amazing things I had seen the past four days, my favorite memory of the infamous Vienna and Venice trip was that last night sitting on the patio with my classmates. We all shared tales of travels so far and what we missed about home. There was a little chill in the air, so I brought down an extra blanket from our room that six of us tried to fit under. I loved just sitting back and watching the light in my friends’ eyes shine when they talked about what they loved. It hit me then that I miss home, but when I get home I will miss my study abroad family. We needed that night to say goodbye and travel safe. We needed something just like that.