Vienna, Austria
August 5-8, 2005

In contrast with Prague, Vienna has changed very little since my previous visit in 1990. Like then, is heavily visited by tourists, clean and well-maintained. Walking through the central district of the city, it sometimes feels like there's a muesuem on every block. The city is filled with anachronisms - classical sculptures and towering cathedrals are mixed in among modern skyscrapers and neon signs. Yet the blend between old and new is somehow seamless and comfortable.

During my first night touring the city, I stopped in at Cafe Savoy, the epitome of lavish Viennese decor. Covering the walls are the largest single-piece mirrors in Europe, accented by golden draperies, dark wood, and leather furniture.

I was frequently driven indoors by the incessant rain during my first couple of days touring the city. One of my retreats brought me to the Museum Quarter, an expansive complex that houses 20 of the city's art exhibits. There, I visited MUMOK, one of the two major modern art collections in the district. The museum is enclosed in a nearly featuresless monolith of black stone, situated at an odd angle at the edge of an expansive courtyard - a fine example of Vienna's anachronisms as it is surrounded by light tan facades built in a classic 18th Century style.

Many of the works on display at MUMOK were really enjoyable, occasionally prompting me to laugh out loud for no particular reason. The musuem featured a large number of artists with avant-garde pieces that felt less obscure and desperate than those at Tate Modern in London.

Adjacent to the Musuem Quarter are the stunning Imperial Palace and the expansive gardens at Volksgarten. Further to the northeast is Hofburg Palace, flanked by exquisitely sculpted fountains depicting towering figures from Roman mythology.

Moving away from the city center, I spent an afternoon at Donauinsel, the long, thin island in the Danube formed where the main river forks off from a man-made channel built for flood control. The island, which is almost entirely public park space, is well-maintained and frequented by joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers. Even further to the north is a dense cluster of modern skyscrapers that peer over the island into the heart of old Vienna.

I'm now in Budapest Hungary, where my visit has conveniently coincided with Sziget, a massive annual music festival that draws hundreds of thousands of participants. More on that next time.

© Copyright 2005 by Rob Jagnow.