“Palaces, Horses, and Music” | Blog #4

“Palaces, Horses, and Music” | Blog #4

Picture Gallery At End Of Post

Yesterday proved to be three separate days packaged into one. We awoke to a day cool, overcast, and threatening rain. The afternoon opened to sun and warmth. The evening brought on rain. I ended up changing into three totally different outfits. It was also a day of walking – 16,000 steps. Not a lot for Ben for whom that is a light jog, but a good stretch for me.

The first part of the day was a panoramic tour of Vienna. I had looked forward to an orienting tour around the famous ringstrasse ever since reading The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. The book is about the painting, how it came to Austria from a prominent Jewish family in the crisis of the Anschluss Osterreichs (Annexation of Austria), how it became the cultural symbol of Austria, and how the family legally, against all odds, won it back (it now hangs in the Neue Gallery in NYC). One of the gifts of the book was providing a deep history of Vienna and a sense of the unique place in European culture it was in the early years of the twentieth century. But we couldn’t get around the “ring road” easily because parts of it were blocked off for the Vienna Marathon that was set to be run today, Sunday. Still, the grandeur of the public buildings, reminding one that Vienna is not only a capitol of a country but was once the center of the Hapsburg Empire, is stunning. After a walking tour of the palace and through the downtown to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Amy and I headed out to see the Klimt paintings at the Belvedere. Well, we tried. We walked to the immense opera house to catch a tram. After waiting a very long time we found out that because of the marathon the tram wasn’t running that route and had to give up the plan and head back to the ship. Amy used to give all her employees Gumby dolls to remind them of the need for flexibility. So, I pulled out my imaginary Gumby and we took the subway back. Thankfully it gave us a chance to explore the immense neo-Romanesque Franz Josef Jubilee Church.

Returning to the ship gave me a chance to change into cooler clothes before we set out to the Spanish Riding School to meet the famous Royal Lipizzaner Stallions. It was a behind-the-scene tour and while we were initially disappointed in not seeing the horses perform, we came away feeling like we learned more and got up closer to the horses than we would have otherwise. We met them in their stables (though we couldn’t take pictures or pet them), visited the tack room and riding hall, and even saw their exercise equipment – who knew horses had treadmills to keep in shape? Afterward we needed to bring out Gumby again as the planned stop at one of the famous coffeehouses – Café Central – was thwarted: it was closed! But the guides pivoted and had us go to a palace for coffee and sacker torte – of course we didn’t have coffee and the torte was meh, but the setting was spectacular.

The third “day” within the day required changing into nicer cloths to attend a performance of Mozart and Strauss by the Vienna Residence Orchestra at their beautiful, old-world, concert hall. Such a delightful way to end a long, full, culturally rich day. 

I woke up early this morning and had the ship’s library to myself to read and worship. Peterson’s Kingfisher’s Catch Fire is simply wonderful. His sermon, “And Sarah Conceived” on Isaac from Gen. 21:2-3 and John 3:3-8 made for rich reflection. He writes: “The core message of the gospel is that God invades us with new life, but the setting for this is most often in the ordinariness of our lives. The new life takes place in the place and person of our present. It is not a means by which God solves problems. God creates new life. [God] is not a problem solver but a person creator.”

My thoughts and prayers on this first Sunday of Eastertide are back with Donovan and the staff and people of Westminster as I wonder if I’ll get any public worship along with my private devotions today.

Our stop is in the town of Krems and we’ll be visiting an Abbey that was founded in 1021, so hopefully I’ll at least get to sit in a church and pray to reflect on how God is bringing about new life in the “ordinariness” of my life in the present.