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Tips and Tricks: A Report on Venice and Austria

Tips and Tricks: A Report on Venice and Austria

Old Jun 9th, 2008, 05:06 PM
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Tips and Tricks: A Report on Venice and Austria

The dog, having ate my homework, has caused a considerable delay in my posting of this report. I shall therefore make it brief, lest he consume another version.....

Purpose of trip: Venice and Vienna, Austria make a wonderful contrast – both are former powerhouses (Venice was once a city-state and naval power, Vienna was a seat of the Hapsburg empire.) Geographically, Venice is in a flat area, Austria by and large isn’t. I thought it would make a nice contrast to see the two in one trip. Plus, we missed Venice our last time through Italy, so a trip there was overdue. Then, in a burst of enthusiasm, we added a very brief detour to Lake Como, since we wanted to at least glimpse one of the famed lakes.

Ground transportation: We did the Italian portion by rail, and crossed the border to Austria by rail. Picked up a car in Innsbruck, and dropped it in Vienna.

Tip: On the map, it looks fastest to connect by rail from Italy to Austria via Venice-Salzburg , but by and large rail service is more frequent and easier if you connect Verona to Innsbruck on the Verona-Munich route, which is a major one.

Tip: Do a little research before you go on train strikes in Italy, which can be frequent, but are mercifully short. We were able to change our hotel bookings to accommodate a strike after finding out about it before we left home. Note also that this last-minute change of plan was possible only because we didn’t schedule our itinerary too tightly.

Example: www.kataweb.it/
utility/sciopero/frameset.html

...gives info on strikes. It’s in Italian, but easy to figure out (you can always use an on-line translator like altavista’s Babelfish.)


Costs: As always, you can spend a little or a lot. We stuck to a mixture of two and three star hotels, and one main meal 'out' per day at a modest cafe (lunch tends to be a picnic.) We spent somewhat more in the cities, especially Venice which is one expensive town! Allowing for cost increases since we took this trip, I'd guess € 220 per day for two for hotel, meals , local transport, and incidentals for a trip of this budget category. Plus, in general Austria we found to be cheaper than Italy, and the value per euro in hotel rooms was better. Breakfasts tended to be more generous in Austria as well.

Quick overview of itinerary: Flew into London, there for 2 nights, Horley (near London Gatwick) – 1 night; Venice – 4 nights: Varenna – 1 night (shortened from 2 due to train strike); Verona – 2 nights; Hall, Austria – 1 night; Salzburg – 2 nights; Melk – 1 night; Vienna – 4 nights; London – 1 night then flew home. Total: 19 nights.

Fast impression

LONDON makes a wonderful gateway city from which one can fly almost anywhere in Europe. Rather than visit London in one contiguous 7-night stay, we’ve had a series of 1 or 2 night stays en route to or coming back from trips to various countries on the continent. London makes a nice ‘breather’ after the overnight transatlantic flight, and an even nicer way to wind up a trip before going home. This time out, we hit the Temple Bar area, the Cabinet war rooms, the Greenwich observatory and Maritime Museum (fabulous!) and the South bank walk.

VENICE: Sometimes the magic finds you, and sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t find us, but don’t let that deter you from a visit – there’s still great art here; still a warm welcome to be found in the shops and bars of Cannaregio and the Jewish Ghetto; still lovely nights when warm amber lights in the palazzos shine out into the gloom; still lovely mornings when the sunlight bounces off the water and projects a light show onto the surrounding walls. But while we tried hard, something eluded us. No doubt Venice lovers will be relieved - with us out of the picture, more room for you....
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Old Jun 9th, 2008, 06:14 PM
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Venice (continued) It didn’t help our impression that notwithstanding the warm welcome at our hotel, the Locanda Gaffaro, we found there the hardest mattresses we have ever experienced. Somehow, spouse slept, or at least he snored. I tossed and turned, while the rest of my body mutinied in a kind of all-out anatomical civil war:

FEET: I’m tired. You walked me too hard on cobblestones. Why must it always be cobblestones?
ME: Because that’s the way it is. Shut up and go to sleep.
STOMACH: I’m hungry. Why didn’t you feed me?
ME: Because you weren’t hungry at dinner, remember?
STOMACH: Well, I’m hungry now. Is there anything to eat?
ME: NO! Shut up and go to sleep.
SINUSES: Air raid warning! Air raid!!

After a night of this, the most magical of cities was bound to suffer in my sleep-deprived eyes, so keep that in mind.

P.S. The curators of the Ca’ Rezzonico are mules in charge of a thoroughbred. They have a fine opportunity to make a seventeenth century Venetian family come alive for the patrons of their museum – but they have squandered it. It’s a nice art gallery, but you can find nice art galleries in a lot of places: seventeenth century (or earlier) palazzos are rather more rare.

Varenna: We grab the last, most heartbreakingly beautiful hours of late afternoon and early evening to hike to the castle, just as the falconer was calling in his birds for the night. By next morning, the fine weather has gone, and not much later, so were we – owing to an impending train strike. We did manage a brief jaunt to Bellagio that morning in the company of a young couple from Germany whose acquaintance we had made at dinner. Poor souls, I think they spent the rest of the week in the rain.

Verona: delivered a lot more than expected. No great sights, just a great town. It poured, so we elected to sleep in, that is, that was the idea. I shall treasure fond memories of the garbage man who awoke me each morning with his rendition of “The Mexican Hat Dance” as he banged lids. (“la-diddy-dah-diddy-dah-ditty-da-aaaaa.h...BANG!) Lovely man. What can I say, he kept the streets clean…..

All this aside, Verona was lovely.

On the train to Innsbruck: We meet a true man of the global village, in our train compartment (we are lucky to snag one of the last remaining ‘Agatha Christie’ style trains, the ones with the six-seater compartments instead of an open car.) He’s from the Dominican Republic, a student at an opera school in Milan, en route to visit his German wife who lives in Munich. We want to say we are secret agents posing as tourists, in order to appear as interesting to him as he is to us, but in the end we just give him the gift of a used paperback instead. Much touched, he reciprocates by giving us his own used copy of ‘The Prince of Tides.’ He is a lovely, modest man; I was sorry to find I didn’t have the same opinion of his choice of reading material. ‘Prince’ is the most implausible story I’ve ever read – but I keep it, a keepsake of a lovely encounter. The people one meets truly are the highlight of a trip.

Salzburg: We have our introduction to ‘spargle’ (sp?) the previous evening in Hall at dinner. We wind up eating a LOT of spargle in the coming days. I like asparagus, really. And white asparagus, the first fresh vegetable of spring in these parts, is delightful. But after awhile, it becomes as ubiquitous as the spam in the famous Monty Python sketch….
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Old Jun 9th, 2008, 06:29 PM
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Salzburg is delightful; there are local college kids out riding inner tubes on the river when we arrive. We love our bed and breakfast just outside town: it makes for an easy portal from which to launch our quickie auto daytrip to Hallstatt, also a charming little place, with its painted skulls in the cemetery and looming, brooding mountain..

Mauthausen: I hadn’t seen this place in over twenty years. It’s grimmer than I remember, if that is possible. But a visit is mandatory – it just is.


Melk – Ottobeuren abbey (in Germany) alone has any hope of competing with this wonderful abbey church for beauty. I know the abbey had to sell their copy of the Gutenberg bible to finance the restoration, and truly, we appreciated the results. As it is, the church museum here is unique, a true delight.

From Melk, it’s a pleasant drive along a vineyard-laden stretch of the Danube to…….

Vienna – where again, we met someone interesting. This time, it was a UN diplomat on the bus in from the airport, where we had dropped our car.

We thought again of posing as secret agents, but thought better of it.

As for the city of the Third Man, its best sight is described in two words: Hapsburg treasury. A three star, not-to-be-missed sight, thanks to the audiotour that explains how the story of the Holy Roman Empire is told in symbolic form in the priceless jewel-studded objects one sees.

Schonbrunn: needs some enterprising soul to rent bikes, so that one can better enjoy the immense park. A warning: the coffees sold here come in cups stolen from my childhood doll’s tea set, but the coffee is incredibly rich and strong to compensate.

Transportation in Vienna: is easy and cheap, thanks to ride-all-you-want 72-hour passes. Head out to the Vienna woods for a spectacular view and then, after descending back to the bottom of the hill, take in dinner at a wine garden restaurant.

This city is chock-full of Art Nouveau architecture. Stuff your eyes, then stuff your stomach with a pastry. I know, many here hate Sachertorte. I’ll eat your piece, if you like. Then again, Vienna is the sort of place where a fried boot would taste good. Truly, try the Sachertorte. Try it again, with whipped cream. Try it again….

And finally, Back to London : for window-shopping on Oxford Street and also at Harrod’s, in Kensington.

That’s it – where did the time go?

*****Thanks to richardab for all his encouragement.
*****Thanks also to Statia for her highly entertaining description of a trip to Venice for a renewal of marriage vows.
******There's a host of other people who deserve acknowledgement, but I beg your forgiveness because the dog ate the list with your names....
*****Thanks to the rest of you for reading this. Sorry for the delay. BAD DOG!
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Old Jun 9th, 2008, 06:35 PM
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Hi Sue- Ever since I had my first spargel in Salzburg in 2003, I fell in love with it. Last year I ate spargel every day when I was in Germany, and never got tired of it.

€220 for 2 sounds unbelievably cheap. HOw much was your hotel in Venice?

Looking forward to the rest of your trip report.
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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 04:45 AM
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Greetings yk.

Now, how did I just know you would be a spargel (girl? boy?) (Spargel girls and boys - sounds like what they would call the chorus line dancers in an old Busby Berkeley movie, doesn't it. )Anyway, I think it's a good match: Fresh and crisp, like your trip reports.

Yes, we liked the spargel too. But the joke was, we thought it was going to be hard to find, and actually based our first choice of restaurant in Austria because they happened to make a point of mentioning it on the menu. Then of course we found it all over the place for the remainder of the trip. We still laugh about that one.

****About prices****: I'm glad you raised the question because one of the things I hoped to bring out in this report is how non-representative a given individual's experience can be, even within a given budget style.

First, the usual problem of 'lies, darned lies, and statistics' applies. Our average per diem/daily expense total was squewed downward because the average includes what we spent in Austria as well as in Italy. And not just Austria, but small town/village Austria as opposed to the cities. Northern Italy, and northern Italian cities like Venice in particular, are disproportionately expensive as you rightly suspected.

If I try quoting in percentage terms (so that the information can apply to people whose hotel category might be different than ours) -- the standard deviation for this itinerary's hotel prices was around 22 per cent. This rather large variance is due mainly to Venice - in fact, my records show our hotel in Venice cost us over twice as much as our little bandb just outside Salzburg. And no, I can't put this down to differences in hotel category between the two places, since our 'hotel' in Venice was more like a bandb. It had only 6 or 8 rooms, and lacked even an interior breakfast room, although it did have a small enclosed courtyard where one could eat in fine weather.

I've been checking tripadvisor and other sites for current prices on this Venice hotel, which was the Locanda Gaffaro. The trouble is that even 'current' prices can be misleading if one doesn't warn people to allow for seasonal variation, and even just ordinary market fluctuations in demand. The mileage of people reading this report is almost certainly going to vary. Right now, for example, Expedia is showing a last-minute deal for a twin room in June (2008) of just € 104 for this hotel. Yet a tripadvisor reporter admits paying € 145 for a double room - and this was in 2005 - three years ago! But it was APRIL, 2005 - which shows just how big an influence season, and maybe other market fluctuations, can have on what one pays in Venice.

So you can imagine that given the tendency of many people here to quote their prices in American dollars, things really become confusing, since now currency fluctuations get added into the mix.
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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 05:48 AM
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Hi Sue -

Thanks for the clarification re hotel prices. We found Venice hotels to be extremely expensive. After our last visit in 2005, I think it'll be a long time before we return (after we win the lottery). Count us in the minority of not loving Venice.

I do think spargel is a big deal in Germany/Austria during spring. Almost all the restaurants I went to had a special "spargel menu" as well. Since it's only available for 2-3 months a year, it is something special I presume.
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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 06:05 AM
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Thanks for sharing, Sue.

Sorry that the magic of Venice eluded you.

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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 06:19 AM
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Excellent and concise, sue. And written with style.

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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 09:13 AM
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yk - I think that may have been part of the problem - the relative expense of Venice. I felt almost as if the meter were running.

ira - I think there were at least two places we failed to look where we might have found magic.

One was out on the lagoon. There are outfits that offer tours that explore the ecology of the lagoon - in small motorboats that offer more flexibility than the public boats available. While I have absolutely no regrets about passing up a gondola ride, I regret not finding the money to do this.

The second place was Castello, which we didn't explore properly and in particular, we missed seeing the gardens there.

tomasso - ah, you flatterer you. Thank you, I am glad you liked the report.

I am grateful for your introducing the word 'style' because it is not that Venice lacked style for us. For that matter it didn't lack magic, either - but the magic I found was of the dark variety, not the kind one normally shouts about in trip reports, and especially not if one doesn't want to set those contemplating a first-time visit on the wrong foot. In my next post, I'll try and elaborate on this a bit, but a warning to anyone reading that it is not a bright and cheery observation.


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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 12:00 PM
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Sue, I didn't note any dates for the trip.

I haven't discovered the magic of Venice, in person at least, as I haven't been there. I think I will love her, but I know it's possible I won't. I didn't "get" Rome the first time, but love Rome deeply now.

I have rather decided that my first look at Venice will be between the mid-October and mid-March some year, when she is truly darker - and colder, and marginally more Venetian than the rest of the year.
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Old Jun 10th, 2008, 12:34 PM
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I love your report, Sue_xx_yy!! And not just because I am a descendant of the inventors of the Sacher torte (or one of the competing claimants at any rate) (and, if truth be told, there are tortes that I love more than that one).

Have been to Vienna several times but not to Venice. I may get to Italy (somewhere) in the next 12 months, but will likely start with Rome. I'll be interested to read your forthcoming observations about Venice.

When was your trip (you are scolding the dog for a misdeed from how distant in the past?)
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 10:00 AM
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Noe, I am glad you are enjoying the report. It is interesting to hear you are a descendant of one of the competing inventors of Sacher torte. There was a thread here some years back in which we discussed the big argument you alluded to, the one that led to a court battle over who had the right to claim the recipe.

tomasso - if I were ever to go back to Venice, the winter is when I would choose (outside of Carnivale season, that is.)

About Venice:

There's a famous illusion drawing that most people have seen that shows either a young woman's profile or an old woman's profile depending on how one looks at the drawing. If one sees a particular part of the drawing as an ear, one sees the young woman who is inclined away from the viewer; if one sees the same part of the drawing as depicting an eye, one sees the old woman who is inclined toward the viewer. One can learn to see both faces (although not at exactly the same moment.)

The question is, does one want to? One might have enjoyed beholding the first face one saw, but have a strong aversion to the other, so that one wished one hadn't seen it. Perhaps the old woman looks ugly to one, or even merely reminds one, uncomfortably, that all of us are doomed to grow old and die. In that case the young woman seems a more favourable sight because she is more beautiful. Or perhaps the old woman looked kindly and gentle and reminded us of our grandmother, always concerned for us - whereas the young woman strikes us as beautiful but also cold and shallow.

The point of this long diatribe is that not only are there two faces to see in the drawing but that there is more than one reaction possible to each face. Either way, once you see both faces, you will likely experience the full spectrum of reactions. Whatever 'face' it is I see in most places I visit, it seems to be the one that prompts in me a pleasant reaction. In Venice, I saw both faces, and one of them provoked in me a less favourable reaction.

So the question I struggle with is, do I reveal that face to others? What's the point, I asked, of possibly (admittedly only possibly) stirring reactions in people that they don't want, so that they might resent my pointing it out?
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 10:08 AM
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Oh by the way, just in case anyone has forgotten the illusion drawing or has never seen it, here is a link to it:

http://tinyurl.com/37kt6
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Old Jun 11th, 2008, 07:19 PM
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Judging from the clarity of the voice you've been writing in here, Sue, I'm not afraid to read you go to the dark side.

But I appreciate that it isn't something one necessarily wants to do casually.
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Old Jun 13th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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tomasso

LOL, in other words, I have demonstrated enough sanity to you that you don't think I'll start dragging myself about the Fodors' laboratory while shouting, "the switch, Igor, throw the switch!" while the bird of lunacy perches on my shoulder....

It is more that I got a sense that the Venetians of yore were a very insular society, one in which I am very glad I didn't live. While I feel this way about most societies of the past in general, the architecture and municipal plan of Venice seemed to intensify the feeling, and once I had it, the very layout of the place made the feeling hard to escape.

For example, the palazzos of the Grand Canal stand, as you know, almost uninterruptedly shoulder to shoulder. It makes for an impressive facade from the water side. But from the land side, as one walks the calle/alleys behind the palazzos, one is confronted by a virtual wall that cuts one off from the light and air and view of the canal. The narrowness of the alleys and their blind corners didn't help the claustrophobic feeling.

I looked, too, at the single causeway of the islands to the mainland and found myself wondering: how is it that these people lost no time in sailing to points as far away as Constantinople, but took over 800 years since they founded the place to build a land bridge to the world on their own doorstep?

The whole tiny, cramped place seemed to be just a little too vivid a metaphor for how restricted the lives of ordinary Venetians were, once upon a time. Such as the glass-blowers, who, not trusted with the trade secrets that they knew, found themselves confined to Venice for their entire lives, on pain of death. Or the Venetians of Jewish faith, who were virtually walled up alive in the Ghetto. Or the nth generation of prostitutes who lived during the undeniably fascinating erotic-decadent period, but whose futures were probably as dead-ended as some of those alleys were.

If I were going again, I'd go during the time of mist and cold and rising waters. As it was, the sunny skies way, way above those dark little rat-maze alleys proved too taunting a contrast. Maybe that's the whole point of Carnivale. Venice has a way of making you think about death, so you might as well go whole hog, and visit when you have a climate that matches the mood.
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Old Jun 13th, 2008, 11:05 AM
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<<glass-blowers, who, not trusted with the trade secrets that they knew, found themselves confined to Venice for their entire lives, on pain of death>>

Worse yet (or better, depending on one's perspective) they were confined to Murano, and only rarely, I believe, were allowed back into Venice proper or to world they came from. On the other hand, they had a steady living!

Speaking of metaphors, did you find one in those alleys to reference the back alleys of any life or mind?

The is an architectural element to the Ventian palazzi that is beautiful and fascinating - but I'm not referring to the exteriors, the embellishments or the materials. I'm speaking of the way daylight enters the room. It's created by the arrangement of windows, not in the center of walls but usually at the very end of the wall: the light thus seems to enter the room "sideways". streaming across the perpendicular adjacent wall , rather than entering the room from an opening "in the center of the wall." Get what I mean?

Surely there are other places where you will find windows arranged this way, and there are many exceptions in the palazzi of Venice, too. It isn't a rule, but it is common.

I haven't been to Venice to see it, but I've read a good deal about it and seen it at work in photos - it strikes me that like much of the "pre-electric" world, light was carefully managed for both effect and practicality. Factor in the building methods that often allowed few openings, the scarcity or preciousness of glass (even in Venice) and quite a picture emerges.

Now add those dark alleys, pierced by an occasional flash of light, or glow from above. Add the dungeons. Add the often bright attics ...

I think again of "Summertime", when la signora Fiorini shows Jane Hudson her room: "I have put you up high," she says, "so you will have plenty of air. And there is quite a nice view ..."

That the view happens to be quite impossible from the spot where the pensione seems to be located is beside the point - the light floods in, the view alone is worth the trip.

That light is the theme in Elizabeth Spencer's "The Light in the Piazza", though it's florentine light. (Adapted as a film with Olivia DeHavilland and then a few years ago as a beautiful B'way musical) There the light is a metaphor for many things: learning, understanding, love, enlightenment, opening of the heart and mind ...

Anyway, if light can be so filled with meaning, dark must also be - after all, the need one another to be understood.
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Old Jun 13th, 2008, 11:20 AM
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Fascinating insights about Venice. Thanks for the discussion.
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Old Jun 15th, 2008, 06:09 AM
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Tomasso

"Speaking of metaphors, did you find one in those alleys to reference the back alleys of any life or mind?"

No, but I wouldn't be surprised if some writer somewhere hasn't made that comparison.

"the light thus seems to enter the room "sideways". streaming across the perpendicular adjacent wall....."

I wonder if that is a quality of the time of year at which the photos you saw were taken, combined with the south versus norther aspect of the building in question. As you know, at many latitudes (including that of Venice) the track of the sun east-west is lower in December than it is in late April/May, which is when I visited.

I have long noticed in my own (south-facing) house, latitude about 44/45 degrees) that beams of light never play on the walls opposite the windows, on other words, never shine 'sideways' in late April/May, notwithstanding the leaves not yet being out on the trees to provide shade. But in December I can come downstairs some morning and wait for the sun to clear the rooves of the houses opposite me on my close-packed urban street, at which point my tiny living room and sunporch seem to explode with light as the sun is practically perpendicular to the glass (A small compensation for the shorter days.) Other times of the year the sun rises too high too quickly for this effect to occur.
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Old Jun 15th, 2008, 06:16 AM
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Moving On to Vienna.....

Tomasso (above) mentions Venice and 'Summertime'. Speaking of movies, I have just acquired a new DVD of "The Third Man" which features 'extras' - you know, special commentaries, etc. As those reading this no doubt know, that film was made during the immediate postwar reconstruction period of Vienna.

In one 'extra' on the DVD, it is noted that the cinematographer was fascinated by how the city looked at night when the streets were wet with rain, so much so that he decided to have the streets regularly hosed down during the nighttime shooting so as to be sure to always have a 'rainy night' effect. (That the film is in black and white adds to the effect.)

Anyway, tomasso's comments above about light made me realize that part of the effect the cinematographer caught may have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing, because the light level and quality in Vienna today at night cannot help but have changed. Not just because of changes in the city's electric lighting, etc., but because the 'skyscape' has changed; it was only for a few years (thankfully) that certain open spaces of sky existed thanks to poor St. Stephen's cathedral lying in ruins and other fine buildings being, at the least, heavily damaged after the wartime bombing.

Anyway, just for the historical record of what Vienna looked like post-war alone, seeing 'The Third Man' is a must. (I like the UK version best but the American release is almost identical except for being slightly shorter and having a slightly less cynical opening tone).
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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 08:22 AM
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