Previous Newsletter | Next Newsletter | Complete Archives

Greetings from Vienna, #12

March 8th, 2004


Now that we've recovered somewhat from the whirlwind surrounding the wedding, time to get back into the swing of things with a "normal" length newsletter. And since I am starting this only hours after I sent #11, I hope to have comments from Karin, the lovely bride herself. So without further ado...

(I'm now writing this early Monday evening, Vienna time, on the 8th, the day this newsletter is due. I've run out of time, so I must trim out the unfinished bits, which turns out to be everything except our trip to Venice. Sigh. At least it's nice and long. :-) Enjoy, and I'll see you at the end.)

Old Business

The English version of the Wedding Poem is now online. Extra credit to anyone who can come up with a literal translation of the original German version.

Universal Life for Free
Well, not exactly. Some of have written to tell me that it no longer costs anything to become an ordained minister in the Church of Universal Life. So it is now free to be eligible to marry people in the States.

Pictures at an Exhibition
Thanks to everyone who's been putting up with not being able to go to my links. It appears that some of the problems are due to mail programs (in particular AOL, but also others), which "hard wrap" my emails, i.e. add extra line breaks to create shorter lines instead of "soft wrapping" where the width of the window determines how the text flows. In any case, when these extra characters get inserted into a link, then all bets are off. Creating shorting links seems to help, and I will start putting up pages specifically for images that are associated with each newsletter, in case the links in the body of the newsletters don't come through correctly. This will, at some point, lead to these newsletters going online, but I'll still send them out in this format.

We Have A Winner (or Two)
William Rucklidge and Rhonda Reese are co-winners of the "what do people call that thing" contest from newsletter #10. The name I was looking is a "connected graph". William was the first with that answer, but Rhonda sent a more general definition from set theory. No answers were submitted by "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" team, so they don't get a "sweep" of my contest. Winners please email me with Austrian candies/specialties of your choice.


Greetings from Vienna
Part the Twelfth, An Unorthodox Marriage

Honeymoon in Venice
As some of you know, after last year's Vienna dance week, where I first met Karin, I had gone to Venice for Carnival before heading back to Vienna. This year, know that we would not have much free time for months after the wedding, we decided on an early honeymoon. So on the evening of Monday the 23rd, about forty hours before the wedding, we boarded the night train for Venice. We'd already gotten warnings about the trip: the Italian railroad workers were going on strike, Venice is flooded. Nonetheless, we decided to go anyway. Our plan was a simple one. Take the night train to Venice to arrive the morning of the 24th, Fat Tuesday; spend the day tooling around Venice, maybe get to Burano and see the Lace Museum, catch the costume parade in Piazza San Marco; then take the night train back to Vienna, arriving Wednesday morning. Our day in Venice didn't quite exactly turn out like this, as you will see.

Monday was a semi-long day for me. I was working on completing newsletter #10 for most of the day. I continued to do this even as I headed out to the airport to pick up my brother Eugene. Once he arrived, I got him into the city and checked into the pension, after picking up some cough syrup. The poor guy was traveling with a chest cold, and he came into the middle of the latest snow storm. Luckily, his room was nice and warm.[1] After stopping at the internet cafe to send the newsletter and do emails, we headed back to the apartment so he can meet Karin before the wedding. Eugene also brought along a care package from California, which contained some needed supplies from my house (the winter parka, boots, more clothes, habanero hot sauces for my father-in-law, assorted official mail), thoughtfully assembled and packed by my friend Syd Polk, housemate Richard Powers, and house guest Andy Lentvorski. After a rather longer than planned stop to get online (it seems like all my visits to the internet cafe are longer than planned; how I miss my broadband connection, sigh), we finally made it back to the apartment.

Karin and Eugene hit it right off, especially when Eugene trotted out his high school German, which was apparently from some antiquated text-book of High German, which most Austrians find just too amusing for words.[2] Anyway, Eugene hung around long enough for us to get some dinner at the "running sushi" place around the corner[3], and then Karin and I got ready and headed off to the train station. Eugene came as far as the underground station at Südtirolerplatz, where we sent him off to catch the U1 back to the pension, and we made it to our train with a few minutes to spare. After a slight wait for the conductor to come by and check our tickets and take our breakfast orders (and wake-up times), we were able to settle into our bunks and turn in for the night.

The trip down was more or less uneventful, though the woman in the middle bunk snored most of the night, and the "kids" in the next compartment was talking pretty loudly out in the hall. Nevertheless, we felt rested the next morning. The snoring woman left several stops before we reached Venice, and we ended up having a nice conversation over breakfast with the couple in the upper bunks, a pair of biologists studying water quality on an extended holiday to Venice; she from Spain and he a "typical mixture of the k.u.k.",[4] springing from a Croatian father, Viennese mother, and growing up on the French/German border. We talked about long distance relationships, traveling to the Americas (they've been to South America many times, and particularly liked Buenos Aires), and of course, water quality issues around the Venetian Lagoon. Since we were anticipating some flooding, this last was no small matter.

At last, our train crossed the causeway connecting the mainland to the island(s) of Venice, and we arrived into what can only be described as a very wet snowfall. We bid farewell to our erstwhile companions, and headed into a rather empty city. During my visit last year, many locals assured me that the crowd I saw was but a fraction of the normal Carnival multitude. However, between the economy and the impending Iraq war, both the American and European tourist trade had dropped off sharply. This year, it seemed like weather as well as news of the strike contributed to an even smaller number of tourist. We remained undaunted, reasoning that our chances to see the more popular sights were vastly improved. So into the city we went, after only a short digression at the gift shop windows of the Santa Lucia train station.

Where's the Uniform?
But first, we popped over to the Hotel Florida, just around the corner from the station, where I had stayed last year. As some of you might know, my visit to Vienna last year included a side trip to Budapest to meet up with Laszlo the Tailor, who has retired from making uniforms for the Hungarian army, only to take up his craft again (and more lucratively) in the services of film companies and historical re-enactors like myself. My uniform was nearly ready, so we agreed that if there was a chance that it could be done in time, he'd send it on to me in Venice, where I can wear it during Carnival (and maybe crash a Ball or two on the basis of my splendid costume alone). Alas, the uniform did not arrive before or during my time in Venice. And for the next year, I phoned, emailed, and faxed the hotel, which were answered with variations on "what package?" and "no English, telephone later?" I was most unhappy, and Laszlo was beside himself.

However, earlier this year, after confirming with Laszlo that the package was never returned to Hungary, I had one phone conversation with the hotel that seemed to imply that there might be, after all, a package from Budapest waiting for me. Not that they could tell me if they had one; I'm still unsure if they didn't know, didn't care, or was somehow unwilling to deal with wayward packages for globetrotting Americans over the phone. In any case, my hope was re-kindled, and our trip to Venice was to going to confirm once and for all if I had a uniform (or if Laszlo needed to start on a new one).

Luckily, we arrived at the hotel when the person manning the desk was their best English speaker (as I recalled from last year). I explained my situation, not at all sure if he'd remember me (I remember Japanese tourists there, but I'm pretty sure that I was the only Asian in all of Venice who went around wearing a fedora), and he had a long conversation with the head of the cleaning staff. This older, Italian woman than headed off upstairs, and we were all left waiting. Presently, she came back down with a battered cardboard box with a Hungarian postal label. In it were my jacket, trousers, belt, and a bill from Laszlo, dated almost exactly from one year before. As annoyed as I was for having to have waited a year for it, I was nevertheless overwhelmed with relief. If the weather was nicer, I might've even put it one and wandered around Venice in costume. Luckily for me (as Karin would've been just a bit unhappy about it, though she wouldn't object if she could've had a matching costume), sense prevailed and we asked the nice man if they can hang on to it for one more day, as we did not want to lug it around the wet weather. They kindly put it aside for us, and we brought it back on the train to Vienna that night. Here is a picture of the uniform:

Back to Venice
So, buoyed my this excellent turn of events, we headed back out into the rather nasty weather (wet snow and stiff winds under an overcast sky). Thinking that better weather might bring in crowds later in the day, we decided to take the "vaporetto" or water bus to Piazza San Marco and see if we can get into St. Mark's Basilica. I was able to get in last year, but Karin has never been in any of her previous trips. We took the #82 line, which served the western side of Venice, going by the deep water port where container ships and cruise liners docked, as well as stopping at the Lido before coming to San Marco. Not being the most scenic of routes, this was definitely a commuter line, though we did have lots of French teenagers come on at one point; part of some class, we thought. It was too cold to stand out in the open, and we retreated to the cabin, where the windows were all fogged up, so we didn't see much on this particular run. We'd notice that the water was pretty high, but appear to be receding, so the threatened flood was not to be. You can see how high the water was in this picture:

Looking at the lines, we decide to give the Ducal Palace a pass, though it does appear that they've finish the restoration work, as the protective scrim and scaffolding cover the right side of the Palace had been removed. Last year, I was able to get a picture of it from the church of San Giorgio Maggiore:
where one can plainly see the scaffolding and scrim, which was painted with a view into the courtyard of the Palace. This view of the courtyard, of course, is an impossible one as long as the Palace stands intact. I thought it was a rather clever thing to decorate scaffolding this way. According to various guide books, this practice is common for places along the Grand Canal. The city officials are keenly aware of the Grand Canal as a tourist attraction in and of itself, and thus encourages owners of buildings along it to appropriately decorate their Canal-side frontages, especially when under renovation (which is constant and eternal in Venice). Thus, tourists can go home with photos that are not filled with construction workers and building materials strewn about the place.

We also decided to give the Campanile a pass,[5] given the cloud cover. Again, thinking that the weather might break later in the day, we thought that we might come back and overlook the city when the light improved. The line for St. Mark's was very short (by Venetian standards), so in we went. There are many things one can say about St. Mark's, but "bright" is not one of them. Even in full daylight, the interior is dim, with only occasional shafts of light coming in. Now, when this light (or any light) reflects off of the golden-hued mosaics, the effect is spectacular, but all too transitory. It might be possible that this is a deliberate effect, designed to make worshippers pay more attention to the service than the building. Though I'd argue that one can easily instill a sense of awe by showing off all the mosaics to their best effect. In any case, because of the weather, a number of lights were turned on in the Basilica, which actually made some things easier to see than when I was there last year.

Like many larger churches in Europe that are tourist attraction, one pays for the experience piecemeal. While there is no cost to enter, it's a couple of Euros to look behind the transept at the best mosaics, or to enter the crypt, or to see the "treasures" room. In this case, we opted for the "treasures", which were a collection of religious articles—some made out of precious materials—as well as a collection of reliquaries.[6] After some more wandering around the free parts of the Basilica, we headed up to the museum (another three Euros), which we thought was the best deal of all. It contained models of the Basilica, exploded views of the construction and restoration details, and the original bronze horses that stood over the front entrance.[7] There was also a new section of museum (at least new to me as I did not find it last year) which contained pieces of mosaics that are partially restored. Beyond this was a hallway leading to balconies overlooking the nave, where we could stand next to and really look at the mosaic depicting the family tree of the Virgin Mary. We were also able to see the interior better as more lights were turned on for the noon service.

Beyond this area was yet more galleries, containing 18th century drawings of the church, with many architecture and design details , in preparation for one of its numerous restoration attempts. We were now in an area connecting the church to the Ducal Palace, where the Doge and his family can come to the Basilica and worship in private. The last gallery contained examples of vestments (with Venetian lace, of course), tapestries, books of ecclesiastic and secular music (some of which Karin knows and has played), and paintings. On our way back out, the Basilica was dark again, with even fewer lights than when we first entered. And finally, we made it out to the "loggia", next to the (replica) horses and overlooking Piazza San Marco. The snow had lessened somewhat, but it was too warm to stay frozen, so the gutters were busily draining the roof, right onto our heads. The wind had yet to die down, so it was rather comic to see other tourists like ourselves try to get a good picture in while avoiding getting either themselves or their cameras wet. In trade for getting their picture taken, a couple of Canadian tourists (I could tell by the accent, though no "eh" was uttered)[8] took our picture on the loggia:

For another blast from the past, here are two pictures of San Marcos Square, 2003. Notice how few people there were. You can see the replacement horses and the downspouts for the gutters in the second picture.
IMG_0671_pl_san_marcos IMG_0672_roof_san_marcos

A Hot Meal
When we packed for this trip, we wanted to pack as lightly as possible. However, we also wanted to make sure that we could always have a snack without having to pay tourist prices. And given Karin condition, when she feels hungry, she really needs to eat. So besides minimal toiletries (we'd shower before getting on the train and after getting home on Wednesday morning), we'd brought sandwiches, some fruit, and water.[9] So after being in St. Mark's for nearly two and a half hours, we were feeling a mite peckish. However, the wet snow and wind made it unlikely that we'd find any place to sit down and picnic, and we were feeling cold. So we headed away from St. Mark's Square (figuring that the further way from it we get, the lower the prices are at restaurants), and ended up at a place on the Calle di Speccheri, where we had a nice pizza and spaghetti with salmon. But more importantly, we were out of the cold.

After lunch, we started thinking about our afternoon plans. After checking out the vaporetto schedule, we decided that we'll lose too much time if we tried to get to Murano. The boats are on an hourly schedule, and we'd have to wait fifty minutes. It's about thirty minutes to Murano, and the return trips are also hourly. Even if we were very efficient and finish Murano and the Lace Museum in fifty-five minutes (just possible), it would still take a two hour chunk our of our afternoon, which was already made short by the heavy overcast. Reluctantly, we decided to save Murano for another time, and took the next vaporetto going back down the Grand Canal. This time, we got a much better view, though not enough for me to take pictures. Unusually, there was no advertising poster at the top of the Rialto bridge, which might've been worth a picture. The wind and snow kept up, and when we arrived back at the train station, we decided to go a get a coffee to warm ourselves up.

After we thawed a bit, and our clothes dried out, we felt warm enough to do some more walking. We decided to explore the Gardino Papdupoli, and then wander around the back streets, trying to avoid the major foot traffic near the Accademia bridge and on the main routes to the Rialto. We had no trouble doing this as the hoped for turn in weather did not happen, and there was no wave of visitors in the afternoon. After much walking and exploring, we found our way back to the Scalzi bridge by the train station, where we had an early dinner (again eschewing the sandwiches and fruit). And then it was time to go get my uniform, and then catch the train home.

Lest you think that this sounded low-keyed and perhaps boring, it was great for us. We were taking a break from Vienna, Karin—a Cancer who lives in a landlocked country—got to be by the water almost the whole day, we got to walk around and be away from cars as well as people (unexpectedly), and we found gifts for the people who came to the wedding (more on this later). I suppose the down side was that we saw hardly anyone in costumes. Last year, with it being sunny nearly the entire week around Carnival, as well as warm, I couldn't walk twenty feet without seeing someone in costume, on have my way blocked by tourists photographing costumed people by some picturesque bridge or building. Ah well, there's always 2006.[10]

Journey Home
The railroad strike did not affect the trip out to Venice, but the trip back was a slightly different situation. When we go to our compartment, we found out that the heat was off and the lights were on the lowest settings. It turned out that the striking workers didn't want to hook the train up to the power grid, so we didn't have enough electricity to run everything. Eventually, the Austrians did something to switch the power source to the locomotive (the same as we'd be doing when under way), and lo, we had heat and more lights. We left Venice on time, with a clear sky which allowed us to see the crescent moon, as well as planes landing at Venice's airport. We soon turned in, and arrived back in Vienna around six-thirty the next morning. This time, breakfast was in one of the restaurants in the station (with a voucher), and we got to watch the sun come up over a cold but clear day. Our Wedding Day.


It's Monday the 8th again. Many apologies to those expecting a discussion of how Karin chose her new last name. We promise we'll get it into the next issue. Now a preview:

See you in seven days.


Bis dann,
Tscüssi, baba.
-Paul & Karin



[1] We put him up at the Pension Dr. Geissler in Swedenplatz, most recently a domicile of our friend Michael Bergman during the dance week.

[2] The expression: "toll" (which might be transliterated to the English "tohl") nearly put Karin into hysterics.

[3] Buffet style sushi, with the dishes on a conveyor belt system running past all the tables. The version in the States that I'm familiar with use miniature boats holding plates of sushi. The plates are different colors, which denote different prices.

[4] "kaiserlich und königlich" or "Imperial and Royal", a reference to the pre-WWI Austro-Hungarian Empire.

[5] I am rather fond of the Campanile, which is the inspiration for the smaller one at Rice University (my alma mater) as well as the one at Stanford (I believe). Again from last year, I got a rather nice picture of if from across the canal. In general, I feel very comfortable with Venetian architecture. The rounded arches (decidedly not Gothic), brickwork, Ionian and Corinthian columns, and deep arcades are all elements of Romanesque architecture which heavily influenced the design of the Rice campus, and which also can found at Stanford as well. It all speaks to a sense of peace and contemplation, which fits the sometimes cloistered nature of a University.

[6] I couldn't quite decode the Latin, and this space was otherwise free of labels in Italian or English, but it seems that if all the relics were genuine, St. Mark might've had four hands, three of which were right ones. It's a mystery.

[7] They are now permanently indoors, and appropriately aged copies stand in their place.

[8] The joke in the States is that Canadians sound just like (US) Americans, except that they put "eh" into every sentence. E.g. "We're from Vancouver, eh?"

[9] And my cameras. As it turns out, I didn't use my big digital camera at all, and only took two pictures with the point-and-shoot. Sigh.

[10] Carnival 2005 will find us in the States, and we are unlikely to try and go to Venice, which is not particularly friendly to baby strollers. Maybe we'll go down to Venice Beach.



Except where otherwise noted, all contents © 2004, Paul T.S. Lee.
Creative Commons License See my copyright page for specific permissions granted under the Creative Commons License.