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venice and vienna

Like many adventurers, when traveling, we seek out places with strong personalities and distinct characters. (Hmmm, that could also describe the people we’re drawn to. . . . .) Yep, global homogenization spreads, but it doesn’t take much work to still find countrysides, towns and cities with their own genius loci, their spirit of place.

Over the holidays, we were lucky enough to explore Vienna and Venice–two cities with characters like none other. They can’t be mistaken for anywhere else. They may no longer be centers of empires, but they still emanate power and ambition, even if it’s toned down by a few wars, revolutions, and collapsed economies.

We also made a few day-pilgrimages to the edges of these empires, seeing Mies van der Rohe’s Tugendhat House in Brno, Czech Republic (eighty five years old and still more modern than modern) and a whole city full of Palladio buildings in Vicenza.

Books help me get to the soul of a place; especially true on this trip. A Nervous Splendor, by Frederic Morton, examines just two years–1888 and 1889–to decode Vienna’s particular personality and how it was manifested in art, government, architecture, music, and even psychoanalysis. We saw the physical traces everywhere in this impossibly grand city.

City of Fortune, by Roger Crowley, tells of Venice’s rise to become a Renaissance superpower. (You think those Wall Street guys are sharks? They don’t even come close to the ambition and ruthlessness of Venetian merchants.) The collision of geography, history and religion that shaped Venice, improbable as a city built on water, are told in his book in lots of regal and gory detail.

But, in the end, we remember the winter sun, the pasta and strudel, the architecture. . . . .

state library, vienna

rugendhat house, mies van der rohe

domes of san marco, venice

venice views