Sunday, June 7, 2015

Taking care of business - in Vienna

The American International School of Vienna will be hosting the next NESDA competition in December, so by tradition, it must also host a coaches' meeting in the spring. I had never been to Vienna, in fact had spent no time in Austria since 1977, so I was excited to represent Neuchâtel at this meeting on the weekend of May 8 to 10.
The Austrian Parliament Building
In case you have forgotten, NESDA stands for the New European Speech, Debate and Acting competition. When I received the agenda for our meeting which was scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on the Saturday, I was sceptical. What could there possibly be to discuss for that length of time? The answer was – lots! The day flew by as we reviewed the last competition, discussed ways to improve our judging methods, and determined next year's debate topics, among other things. I found myself enjoying the people I was with and the ideas we were exploring.
NESDA coaches meeting
The NESDA coaches are all English speaking but we are quite an International group. Among the other coaches are some Americans, a New Zealander, several Brits, two Irishmen and another Canadian  All of these people, like me, have chosen to leave their home countries to teach abroad. Their ages range from mid-twenties to early seventies. They are all champions of the spoken word, and I came to like and respect them a great deal during our day of meetings.
The rain stayed away long enough for us to enjoy a delicious lunch at a local beer garden
The weekend's work complete, I was then free to explore glorious Vienna. Doug, the coach from the Cairo school, joined my husband and me for dinner that night. On Nicole's recommendation, we chose a middle eastern restaurant, Neni, in the Neuermarkt part of the city. This a a trendy area, which attracts a lot of locals. I enjoyed the buzz of the place - and the food was absolutely delicious!
Doug and I at dinner
A quiet spot in the evening
Afterwards, we walked towards the heart of Vienna, Stephansplatz, the square that houses St Stephen's Cathedral. As the light faded on this busy day, we three stopped at a corner cafe for my first taste of Vienna's most famous dessert, a sachertorte, a delectable chocolate confection filled with just a little apricot jam. Yummy!
St Stephen's Cathedral
On the following day, a Sunday, Bob and I set out to explore Vienna more thoroughly. He could be my guide by this point since he had spent his day on Saturday getting the lay of the land. In fact, some of the photos you will see were taken on by him on his solo expedition.
The narrow Vienna River by the Stadtpark
We made our way into the city from our suburban hotel and shipped our bags to the airport at the train station, before we set out on foot for a long but wonderful day of seeing much of what Vienna has to offer.
Food festival.
I had heard from Nicole who had hosted the meeting that there was a food festival in the Stadtpark (City Park). Since that was nearby, we started our journey there, although we did not buy anything to eat. It was too early for that.
Beside the Strauss Monument in Stadtpark
Our wandering took us next to the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, now an art gallery. I loved its beautiful Baroque features, the white marble and the crimson carpet. We only visited the main hallway and the grand staircase. Perhaps if we had had more time, we would have paid admission and explored the interior.
The grand staircase of the Winter Palace
Statuary in the Winter Palace
Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves near Stephansplatz again. This was the spot to grab a light lunch before further explorations. At this point, we had only scratched the surface of this great city and its grandeur had yet to be exposed.
The Donner Brunnen Fountain
From the late 15th Century until it fell, the Habsburg dynasty built great palaces in Vienna; later, as the city became a major centre of art and culture, more majestic buildings were erected. The city is so magnificent that it is almost overwhelming to walk its major streets.
Standing by the equestrian statue of Emperor Joseph II
The part of the Hofburg Palace is now the National Library
We entered the  Hofburg Palace area, through Joseph Square which leads to various wings of this most impressive complex. Since Bob had explored the area the day before, he was able to lead me from place to place.
The Palmenhaus around the corner from the Palace
Maria-Theresa in all her glory
Over the next hour, we viewed the Palmenhaus, the Maria Theresa Platz with twin museums on either side (Natural History and History), and the Museum Quartier, with several art museums to visit. We did not go into any of them - there was just no time.
The gate leading  into Maria-Theresa Platz
Statuary outside the History Museum

The Museum Quartier
Next, we followed the road to another avenue lined with magnificent buildings, those erected to house the government institutions of modern Austria. The Neo-Classical Justice Building is very grand.
The Justice Building
Caryatid columns on the side of the Parliament Building
Across the road is the stunning Austrian Parliament Building, built in Greek Revival style. When we arrived at this spot, the skies, which had been overcast for much of the day, cleared and we were able to appreciate this edifice in all its glory. It is truly remarkable.
Pallas Athene Fountain at the Parliament Building
Another view of the Austrian Parliament Building
The grandeur was not over yet. Not far away was the Rathaus, with its neo-gothic features, and the very impressive Burgtheater across the road. Vienna city designers were wise to build in some green areas as well, with the Volksgarten lying between major buildings. On this day, the park was full of signs advertising the upcoming Eurovision contest, which we watched on TV a few weeks later.
Eurovision ads.
The Rathaus.

The Burgtheater
Five minutes away, near the Schottentor tram station (where we had stopped both times we came into the city) lies the University, Sigmund Freud Park, and the Votivkirche, another neo-gothic building. It has a definitely commercial look, with its façade covered with a massive advertisement for Coca-Cola. We assumed it was under restoration, but maybe the church coffers are getting so low, that this has become the solution.
The Votive Church as seen from Sigmund Freud Park
The final destination on our Vienna walk - which took about five hours, by the way  and 26 000 steps, was the Cafe Central. Dan had recommended we stop there, and although we had to line up for a table, it was well worth it.  Housed in a former bank building, it is very beautiful with its marble columns and vaulted ceiling. Famous (and infamous) Europeans are known to have engaged in philosophical conversations here, among them Hitler, Lenin, Trotsky and Freud. Of course, the desserts there are very rich and very delicious. I had my second sachertorte.
Getting ready to order at the Cafe Central


Finally, it was time to make our way to the train that would whisk us off to the airport. It has been four weeks now since that busy weekend in Vienna. Writing about it brings back the sheer awesomeness of this magnificent city. I will be back.
No time for the Lipizzaner horses, but I did see these guys.

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