Travel Break: Vienna, Prague, Budapest

After midterms at Kasteel Well is the second group excursion, followed by a week for travel break. All 81 of us, three members of the Office of Student Affairs, five professors (I believe) headed off to the German speaking country of Austria.


We started our trip like we started our trip to Amsterdam, with a tour of the city. We passed two WWII-related memorials: the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (which struck me as solemn and dignified), and the memorial in Albertina Plaza (which was a little scary and unsettling, but powerful). I love observing how European cities have central areas that are friendly for pedestrians, where there's no divide on the streets between where people walk and cars. My favorite sight on the tour was the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, the school that rejected Hitler. St. Stephens Cathedral, with its color tiled roof blew me away. I had never seen a decorated roof of that style or size before. My tour guide asked what style this church was and how I could tell, proudly recalling an answer from my art midterm I shouted about the pointed arches and large windows.


Most my Saturday was spent in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum with my art teacher. The palace like museum itself is a stunning piece of art, here's a 3D look inside it. We spent a long time looking at Albrecht Dürer's Adoration of the Trinity. I'm entertained that below heaven, on Earth, Dürer drew a portrait of himself, perhaps in case someone wanted to know what he looked like and hire him. Our group was split in half, so while the other group was working my assignment was to write a detailed description of a work. I chose a small Hans Memling altarpiece. The activity made me feel like a real art historian. Although we looked at works by Raphael, Jan Van Eyck, the most fascinating work was this small self-portrait by the silly mannerist Francesco Mazzola (or Parmigianino), which was painted on a convex canvas, to perfectly replicate the convex mirror the artist saw himself in.

Die Hamletmachine

Of course I wouldn't let myself go anywhere without seeing some theatre. The best option seemed to be a production of Heiner Müller's Die Hamletmachine at the Burgtheater, the Vienna national theatre. I had heard of the play before, and I thought, why not see it in the original German! Take a look at the text. The only problem was that the play was sold out, and I didn't get off the waitlist I signed up for online. Somehow I convinced my friend Suzie to come attempt to get tickets with me. We end up at the theatre around 7:55 (for an 8:00 curtain) and can't figure out where the box office is, asking a security guard (who spoke almost zero English) where to go after attempting to enter through a side entrance. Finally the woman at the box office (with decent, but very basic English skills) tells me at 7:57 that the show is sold out. I press on, "any rush tickets" "no" "any cancellation/waitlist/open tickets" "no". I'm about to give up when she offers me a single ticket. Here's when I realized Suzie was a good friend, she told me I should go see the show alone, and she'd be fine figuring out how to return to the hostel. I hug her, thank her...and then the box office lady offers me two tickets!

7:59 we're rushing around the corner to the theatre, checking out coats, and grabbing the last two seats out of the 60 total. The theatre space was called the "vestibül" and it was like a gallery in a museum, with theatrical lights hanging from the ceiling, and a couple rows of seats set up. The room was covered in gorgeous marble. The set was like a museum gallery. Because the performance was in German, I understood little of what occurred; but the actress who played Ophelia was mesmerizing and watching her attempt to hang a stuffed bull head on the wall, was remarkable for some reason. After I learn German I'll reread the text and it will all make sense, because the English translations I read before seeing the play did not help me break down the hour long performance I witnessed.


We took a day-trip to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I think we went to Bratislava to get a taste of what Cold War-era Eastern Europe looked like. I remember best the cobblestone streets we walked along, and the UFO above the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising. After walking around the city we got on buses and went to Devín Castle, a symbol of the Iron Curtain. On the top of the cliff, we came to the ruins of an old, grand stone castle. There was a beautiful view of Danube and Morava rivers. This part of the trip became the ultimate photoshoot, as we were at the "golden hour" of photography and everyone was together.

Melk Abbey

To bridge the gap between the studies of Renaissance and Baroque art in my "History of Renaissance and Baroque Art" class, we visited the Melk Abbey, about an hour outside of Vienna, in Austria. This was the perfect place to see what Baroque architecture is all about: overwhelming the beholder. In competition with the Protestants, the counter-reformation sought to create heaven on Earth through the glorification of God. Looking up at the ceilings, there is no vault, but the illusion of getting a glimpse of heaven above. This place was ornate, and then had another layer of gold. My pictures don't quite do it justice. The abbey itself remains a place for about 30 Benedictine monks to pray, work, and learn. Our guide said that the monks drink wine in moderation, even have computers and cell phones, since they're a pretty modern bunch.

After my trip to the Abbey, I met my mom back in Vienna and we went to Café Sperl. It had this ambiance I feel like I'm always looking for: people drinking cappuccinos and reading the newspapers, a student with a bunch of books sprawled out, and locals chatting over a meal. I imagined it as a place to meet people, important people, in their natural setting, since Vienna claims to be the "coffeehouse capital of the world".


This city was one of the first cities people recommended I go to if visiting Europe. I found it quite wonderful. It's an inexpensive city, there was a huge variety of culture (i.e. theatre), history, and exploring to be done. We went on a huge walking tour of the city our first day, to see the Prague castle, the tribute to John Lennon (who didn't have any special connection to the city), and ended with a tour of the Jewish Quarters. My favorite moment of the tour was when the guide was describing some of the Jewish cultural museums, "the one down that street focuses on the most important moments in a Jew's life: birth, circumcision, Bar Mitzvah, marriage..." she paused, realizing she needed to finish the sentence. "...and cuisine"

One of the touristy treats to get all over Prague is trdelník - rolled dough wrapped around a stick, grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix. I got it, it was delicious, and I set a new objective for the second half of my European trip: eat more pastries covered in powdered sugar.

The hotel I stayed at with my mom was my absolute favorite hotel I've ever stayed in, The Hotel Agnes. The staff cared so much about making sure we had things to do in the city, that we were given tea or coffee, that all went well with us. And to finally have a breakfast with delicious coffee, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries, it was heaven.


The Sternberg Palace and Clementinum gave me my fill of culture, along with an exhibit on death at the National Museum. As always on this trip, when I saw a church, I went inside, unless there was an admission fee.


All the theatre in Prague worth seeing seemed to be performing right AFTER I was leaving. But for the occasion of the 28th of October, which is the day Czechoslovakia was formed, the opera Libûse was being performed at the National Theatre. In my literature class on postcolonialsm, we studied the concept of nationalism; and often the whole idea of a "nation" comes from a set of cultural performance, such as the national anthem, traditions, etc. This opera was a literal performance of nationalism. The ending of the opera was Queen Libûse having a prophecy of the future for the Czech nation: there would be some struggles and hard times, but the Czech nation would survive and triumph, foretelling the founding of Prague. Some of the performances I loved, others I appreciated. Listening to a recording of the opera as I type this, I remember how beautiful the large orchestra sounded (I love a large number of instruments playing together...) and being in awe of the strong operatic performances.


Budapest was one of the coolest cities I have seen yet. But somehow on this trip, I went to no museums, and no theatre. When I opened the TimeOut guide (2015 edition) for Budapest to find arts and theatre, it essentially said that arts had been cut, so there wasn't a huge selection of live theatre. This was the first city (not counting the Hague) I had slept in, but not gone to see theater. I wanted to see a tour of Mamma Mia! that was playing, but I couldn't convince my mom to go.

As usual, we started our stay in Budapest by going on a tour, which turned out to not be the most exciting tour, but I got some nice photos. The roof of this church, reminded me of the church I saw in Vienna.

My mom felt as though the trip was like her going back to her family's Eastern European roots. We went on a walking tour taking us through the Jewish Quarters. We saw the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the largest Synagogue in Europe, and other synagogues which once were in operation but are closed today. The tour of the Jewish Quarters led us to what I think is one of the coolest neighborhoods I've seen on this trip, where restaurants and bars are packed around Kazincy Street. Our guide took us to one of the original ruins bar. In Budapest, about a dozen old buildings have been transformed into these cool-grungy pubs, which are very popular. The one we went to was filled with modern art, was HUGE inside, and right next to an alley filled with food trucks. I loved it all.

Budapest is known for the thermal baths, which I had a nice time at. I felt like a Roman, soaking in hot water from the Earth.
Location: Kasteellaan 20, 5855 AE Well, Netherlands
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