An Enrapturing First Two Weeks

Selina Donahue
January 30, 2016

When exposed to a new environment, with so much to see, smell, touch, feel, experience, a week can feel like a month. In a city that offers so many resources, the desire to constantly be active can be tiring. And yet, one can not help but feel rejuvenated when walking through the busy streets, the energy of passing bodies striking through you. There are street performers, contemplative smoking business men on the corner, an elderly couple leisurely strolling and holding hands, and dogs dogs dogs everywhere.

Below: Saint Stephen's Cathedral.

When walking in Vienna, you can feel like you’re always in someone’s way. People walk to the beat of their own drummer, on their own path, and if you somehow get in the way, you’re getting pushed. On the outside, the Viennese may seem grumpy, sometimes unemotional, focused. On the U-Bahn, it is strikingly quiet, clean, composed. In contrast, Americans are loud and obnoxious, emotions running high.

The U-Bahn is a blessing. Everything is so close, you can really walk anywhere. But for days where a walk may take up the last of your energy, you are able to simply hop on. Trains often run somewhere from 3-5 minutes, much quicker than transportation I’ve experienced in D.C. Coming to Austria, I didn't know that in order for the doors to open on the train, you must either hit a button or yank a handle. Many of them also have corridor connections, which create more space for passengers to stand. I have never felt horribly squashed on the U-Bahn. 

Below: Pestäule, a Holy Trinity column. It was created after the end of the Great Plague in Vienna. We often pass this while walking through the First District, where the IES Abroad Center is located. 

The café culture is certainly one of my favorite aspects of Vienna. There is Kaffeehaus after Kaffeehaus offering you the famous Sacher-Torte, a hot melange to brighten your day, or a small pot of tea to sip on for hours. While the Viennese seem to be constantly moving in the outside world, they truly know how to appreciate “down time.” They recognize the importance of sitting with a friend for a few hours of conversation, and how that can be vital during the normal working day. I have been to hipster cafés, cafés for the studious, famous café’s, even a cat café (a working cat, sleeping on the job, below). I enjoyed my time in each, formed favorites from the few. Note: Something that came as a surprise to me was the smaller portion size of the coffee. Cups are tiny in comparison to our American supersizing. I have yet to gain any strong rush of caffeine from any of the various drinks I've gotten from these cafés. 

Below: My first Sacher-Torte, which I had at the Café Griensteidl.

I have also been through half of my German Intensive. And intense it is. Reactions and understanding of the material among the students are a range, going from “Yea, I’ve got. Once you’ve learned one language, you are able to pick up enough patterns to understand the rest,” to “Can I pass/fail this?” I am towards the “mildly confused, most definitely concerned,” range. However, there is a certain amount of camaraderie among the hundred or so students in German 101 that allows us to support one another, quiz each other when needed. A week and a half more and we will be on break. After that, classes veered towards our interests and passions. If I’m lucky, I will be taking  a studio art class that will teach me the ways of screenprinting. Personally, I am excited for classes to start as it will give me a constant routine. It will allow me to find my “down time,” my “exploring time,” my “creation time.” Frustrating has it been, not being able to find time to make art between large group excursions to museums and tea fueled late night studying.

The museums are inspiring, and very much my favorite part. One of the main reasons I decided to study abroad to Vienna was for the abundance of museums. Through IES Abroad, I was able to go on a quick tour of just a few rooms in the Kunsthistoriches Museum and viewed Carravagio, Dürer, and Rubens one after another. We studied different paintings that shared the single subject of Mary, always adorned in the colors red and blue. 

Below: "Theseus Slaying the Centaur" by Antonio Canova.

A Saturday afternoon was spent at the Albertina, witnessing the last day of the Edward Munch exhibit. Not knowing much of the artist himself, I really enjoyed viewing lithographs and woodcuts of embraced figures, themes of love and betrayal common. As I was there, I also explored the “From Monet to Picasso” exhibit, which made my Impressionism loving heart sing. It was here that I saw my first Klimt face-to-face, titled Nymphs (Silver Fish). I was able to see various pieces by artists I had only ever studied, such as Giacometti, Kandinsky, and Magritte. I have also been exposed to new artists I was not familiar with, for example, the Belgian painter Théo Van Rysselberghe. Inspired by the pointillism of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and through experimentation with spectral color division he created Seated Nude, which was one of my favorites I saw that day.

Edward Munch. Der Kuss IV/ The Kiss IV. Color woodcut

Edward Munch. Zum Walde II/ Towards the Forest II, Color woodcut

Claude Monet. The Water Lily Pond.

Théo Van Rysselberghe. Seated Nude.

Gustav Klimt. Nymphs (Silver Fish).

Friday night, January 28th, was the TU Ball. Held at the Hofburg Palace, groups of us traveled to the gorgeous building in our newly bought and tailored dresses and tuxes. After coat check and giving our tickets, we came upon the main ballroom which was alive with the debutant dancers and their dates. After the opening ceremony ended, we began to explore the various rooms of the palace. Each room had a different type of music and dance; jazz, disco, folk dancing, and so on. My personal favorite was the Jazz Room, a smaller and intimate room with live singers. Thanks to the courteous gentlemen of IES Abroad, I was able to dance as often as I liked. And thanks to the communal lack of dancing knowledge, we had a grand time sorta-waltzing to songs at different tempos. I stayed until 1:30 AM, but many stayed until the event ended at 5 AM. 

So much has happened in such little time, I am so excited to see how the rest of my stay here will pan out. Until next time!

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Selina Donahue

<p>Selina is a Junior Studio Art Major at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She enjoys long walks in the halls of art museums, eating too many cupcakes, and absorbing the world around her to feed as inspiration for all her creative endeavors. Her specialties lie in taking too many pictures and expressing joy over the little things. Selina is excited to share the beauty she sees all over Vienna during her stay with all who hop on over to her little blog!</p>

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