Grand Tour V


Originally written on September 24, 2005

Hello everyone,

It’s been some time since I’ve sent out an email. It takes a while to write these messages as I have to collect my thoughts in order to put them into words. It’s difficult to do such a thing when I’m time-constrained and have to pay for the Internet. I’m glad thought that many have enjoyed reading these emails. This message is going to be very long as I have many things to say.

The last day of stay in Florence I became a victim of commercialism and consumarism. My sister left for London, and I was by myself. Since I had seen all sights I wanted to visit, I decided to check out designer outlet stores in Tuscany, and see what they were all about. Somewhere in green Tuscan hills, behind the fields of dry sunflowers, the Mall (a designer outlet store) is located. The appearance, itself, is hidious when one takes into account the scenery that surrounds those buildings. Yet buses full of eager spenders come here regularly. It is possible to find good Armani suits or nice Fendi purses at more affordable cost However, some things even after 50% discount are still off the limit for most of us. For instance, a black, crocodile skin, Gucci wallet with the retail price of 1500 euros was selling for 500 euros!!! I had to check price twice to make sure I was reading it correctly. Gucci was the only boutique with a long queue that was stretching outside of the store, and only 20 people were allowed at once. I didn’t buy anything, of course, but it was good that I got a chance to experience this shopping craziness of designer-dependant consumers.

Throughout Italy, we saw people selling fake designer products. If the Mall is even expensive, one can always find perfect sunglasses or a bag on the street. However, suddenly cK logo becomes gK, LV is LX and GG is 66. lol… The day spent in the Mall seemed almost wasted till our return to the city.

The sky was slowly clearing out, sun rays were breaking though the gray clouds, and for the first time I realized why so many people love Tuscany. The scenary was one of the kind – picture perfect, and it seemed that Florence was sprinkled with golden dust as we were approaching it. It was the moment of the day! Our driver didn’t speak English well but being very friendly, he was trying to explain as much as possible using both hands. I found him amusing, but not in the moments when he would use both hands to “talk” while driving. After having gnocci for dinner and my very last gellato, I took the last stroll on the Florentine streets. It was difficult to say why I didn’t want to leave the city. There are always cities and countries with a specific flare that capture one and leave a special warm feeling inside oneself. That night was September 11, and Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge) was coloured in rainbow colours for the second night in the row. As I’ve discovered later, the rainbow flag symbolises peace in Italy.

My train ride from Florence to Vienna went much better than expected, and I didn’t have any problems sleeping in the train. However, I totally forgot that the train had to pass thought the Alps, so my toes froze in the night. I wish I had a blanket with me.

Vienna – could be described in one word – regal. Think of an imperial family which ruled for over 600 years and the wealth they had accummulated from five continents where they had territories. Think of impressive Baroque palaces, rose gardens, classical music, horses and dogs. All these things describe Vienna. There are so many horses and buggies in the city that it smells on manure (just like it does in Guelph, ON lol…). Despite being known as immaculately clean, Austrians do not pick up dog crap off the streets which was very surprising to me. No, I didn’t step in it.

Nevertheless, the differences between Italians and Austrians or Germans, in general, were evident. Finally, the entire system was organized, prices were more affordable, not everyone was wearing D&G, and credit cards were accepted. One of the greatest difficulties this year was our inability to use credit cards. Almost no one accepted them!!! However, I was still doing what Italians do – put the shades on and did not take them off when I walked into a shop. Lol… Austrians also don’t have FCUK shops because my sweater caused rising of some eye brows and some whispering.

Vienna has one of the grandest museums I’ve been to. What really surprised me about Kunsthistorisches Museum (the Museum of Art History) was the level of organization and sorting that was done for each exhibition. It was superb. The building itself could be seen as a museum, but the building was put into the second place due to the special lightning that focused only on the exhibited items. They literarly had to kick me out of the museum. I spent nearly 3 hours in it, and would stay longer if the museum was not closing for the day.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

It was also fantastic to visit the imperial chamber with royal jewels amongst which was 2600 carat smaragd (eat your heart out, J.Lo)! Only English crown jewels from the Tower of London could overshine the Habsburg family wealth.

Another site worth mentioning is the room in Schoenbrunn Palace where little Mozart preformed publicly for the first time. I also went to Salzburg and visited Mozart’s birthplace and the house where his family lived later, but they were disappointing. Not much has been saved aside from a cute little violin which the composer played on as a child.

Schoenbrunn Palace, Vienna

Salzburg was a serene place, and it turned out to be much better than I expected it. I suppose the tourist season was almost over, and the town was not overcrowded with visitors.

Salzburger Dom

The good thing about Austria is that one could buy one of my favourite chocolates, Mozart kugeln, on every street corner.

The highlight of the visit to Austria were not the chocolates but Musikverein. It’s been my dream for a long time to attend the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra concert on the New Year’s Day. However, the concert is always sold out two years in advance and only European royalty and politicians are able to get the tickets. It is each conductors dream to be invited to direct the orchestra. Furthermore, many music students who took German classes with me wished to at least visit Musikverein once in their lifetime due to the superb acoustics. I did not want to miss an opportunity of attending a concert over there. Nevertheless, this was the first time ever that I felt underdressed. I wore jeans because I didn’t bring any trousers with me, and for such an occasion a morning suit would be the most appropriate. Many tourists attended the concert, so I was fine and felt very comfortable soon. It was a Mozart concert, and it was almost everything I imagined it to be. It wasn’t Strauss, and it wasn’t the New Year’s concert, but at least I was there. The audience was very enthusiastic, and the orchestra decided to play two additional music pieces from Don Giovanni.

Muzikverein, Vienna

Then suddenly they started playing Strauss’ Blue Danube, and I was overwhealmed with joy. There would be no Vienna if there were no Danube, nor would there be Strauss if there were no Vienna. As they were about to end, I was sitting on the edge of my chair saying to myself: Do it, do it … and then they did it. Traditionally each New Year’s concert ends with Strauss’s Radecki March in which the audience participates as well, and claps whenever the conductor says so. That moment was the best, and my dream came true. It doesn’t matter anymore if I’ll attend the New Year’s concert. Although they shortened the piece, I got my satisfaction.

There is more I could write you about, but I’ll leave that for tomorrow or the day after.

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