Vienna’s Surprises

Our last day in Vienna was rainy. Figures. Luckily, all we had planned for it was to visit the numerous churches around the city, perhaps as many churches as there were metro stations. First stop: St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

The square in front of it was very crowded, despite the drizzly weather and gloomy grey clouds. The crowds seemed to have leaked inside the cathedral, providing a steady hum of chatter.

Still, amidst the semi-chaos, we found to our welcomed surprise that there was a mass to begin shortly, and we passed the gates to the pews. Once seated, I realized that it was Surprise #1: an extraordinary mass.

Maybe it was the many nuns in the pews. Maybe it was the numerous priests and bishops. Maybe it was the choir that consisted of a dozen boys dressed in red robes. And maybe it was the guards dressed in traditional military uniform, with golden buckles, swords and feather plumes on their caps.

Everything was in German, of course, but I was glad to be enlightened that it was the Feast of the last Austrian emperor, Charles I, also known as Blessed Karl of Austria.

​A man of peace, he attempted to take Austria-Hungary out of World War I, but unfortunately wasn’t successful. He was beatified by the Catholic Church for putting his Christian faith first while making political decisions, and for his role as a peacemaker during the war.1

​After mass, we headed outside to circle the Gothic cathedral, over eight hundred years old, and characteristic for its colored roof tiles. During World War II, much of the cathedral was ruined in a fire, but fortunately the most precious artworks suffered minimal damage.

Up next was St. Peter’s Cathedral. We walked through the crowded streets and mist until we arrived at the green, once copper, domed cathedral.

When we entered, I was expecting the typical arrangement: huge columns lining either side with pews in the middle and a dark, solemn atmosphere. But I was surprised to see the bright cathedral seemingly bathed in pink light, no columns to be seen.

And then we encountered Surprise #2: a live Macedonian choir performance!

​I did not understand what language they were singing in, but the loss of comprehension simply added to the ethereal atmosphere of those angelic voices. The excellent acoustics of the cathedral allowed the voices to billow up and expand, producing an overwhelming rush of music with no microphones needed. The word ‘sing’ completely underestimated the spell I was utterly bound in.

I watched those talented singers, entranced, and if I shut my eyes, I could just imagine what heaven might sound like. Each new song was similar, yet very different and entrancing. Needless to say, I was not about to leave any time before they finished.

​Maybe an hour later, when I had thoroughly soaked in all the beautiful voices, we departed from that charming cathedral, and headed for the next stop: St. Michael’s Square, or Michaelerplatz!

The square’s main feature is the grand gates leading into the Hofburg, or the imperial family’s winter palace. Before we entered, we looked at some old Roman ruins in the middle of the square.

​There, I encountered Surprise #3: gaining a sprained ankle!

​Too focused on gazing at the ruins and craning my neck to read the informative panel, my eyes failed to make out the four, similarly grey colored steps, which were slippery due to the rain. So down I went, and ended up sprawled on the ground, spirits as grey as the sky.

​I was too surprised to cry, but as I scrambled off the ground, tears sprang by themselves as my ankle cried out for me. I gripped the railing for dear life, not about to set that foot down for the world. Trying to blink back tears, the Roman ruins in front of me went unregistered as I scolded my clumsy self.

​My family was very supportive, but my head spun when Mama announced, “We need to get you over there.”

​I gulped. Over there meant getting back up the stairs, crossing the busy street, getting across a very wide sidewalk, to the final destination: two fully occupied benches.

​But I had no choice.

​So with the support of my parents, I hopped bit by bit until a kind woman let me collapse, exhausted, on the bench. By collapse I mean set myself down gingerly.

​While Papa left to find an ankle wrap and some pain medicine, the rest of us sat on the bench while I tried to focus on something other than my excruciatingly painful ankle.

​Like the fact that I wouldn’t get to see what the inside of the Hofburg looks like. Or the problem of getting through the airport the next day and onto the airplane. Or the worst problem of walking around Paris the next week, since my last sprained ankle had taken months to heal.

​But somehow, I made it to an Uber car, inside and out, and into our apartment. The rain kept pouring outside, and I though I wanted to feel glum, I just couldn’t.

​The interesting things I’d seen that day and those beautiful voices that I’d heard kept undulating through my head, soothing my pained ankle and spirit. With my injury, I was able to empathize with people who might never walk again, and to fully appreciate the miraculous ability of walking. I couldn’t help being thankful for all that I still had.

​So although my last day in Vienna was tinged with rain and pain, it was still covered with exciting surprises. And a special dose of thankfulness.

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