Kevin & Shelby in Vienna

(Click on any of the pictures to get a larger version of that image.)

(The Hofburg | Walking Around | Sacher Torte | The Prater | Schönbrunn | Stephansdom | Trains)
We spent this past weekend in Vienna. Two full days wasn't enough.

After landing at the airport on Friday night, we took the City Airport Train to the city center and made our way via U-Bahn and foot to our hotel, the Hotel zur Wiener Staatsoper. Our room was a bit small, but the hotel is unbelievably located (especially for the price), in the center of everything, just off the Kärtner Strasse, a major pedestrian zone. Recommended!

After checking in, we had a late, late dinner at a cafe and then went to bed.

Saturday: The Hofburg

On Saturday, we started our day by going to the Hofburg, the in-town palace and main residence of the Hapsburg emperors (Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, when it all fell apart after World War I). We toured the Imperial Apartments (very interesting) and made a quick circuit through the Imperial Silver Collection (not so interesting, unless you're into silverware, teacups, and gilded centerpieces).
After the silver collection, we toured the real treasure house: beyond this arch is the Schatzkammer, where the "secular and ecclesiastical" treasures of the Empire are stored -- lots of crowns, scepters, and jewel-encrusted things. After the Schatzkammer, Shelby took a nap back at the hotel, and I toured some of the lesser lights of the Hofburg, like the Church of the Augustinian Friars, home to many imperial weddings and the pathos-rich tomb of Archdutchess Marine Christine.
Appropriately, these statues were above the entrance to the National Library's Globe Museum -- second largest globe museum in the world! (Unfortunately, it was closed, just like it was on my last trip to Vienna).

Saturday: Walking Around

Shelby standing in the middle of the Graben, a major pedestrian shopping street. It's still early, so it's not completely filled with people, like it was later in the day. The nubbly column in the background is a memorial to plague victims. Shelby wants us to have ten children, so we can dress them all up like this and go around as the von Hogan Family Singers. The Building Of Fun: guaranteed 200% more fun than comparable adjacent buildings! Instead of newspaper boxes, Vienna just had plastic bags strapped to poles, with a locked plastic or metal coin box. Either people aren't very honest, or they're emptied frequently; I surreptitiously shook a few to see how well the system worked, and they were all empty.
Vienna was a good city for dogs -- we saw lots of Dachshunds . . . . . . and multiple examples of the most noble Hund of them all! We counted five Beagles for the weekend, versus three (not including Scout) for all our time in Hamburg.

Saturday Night: Sacher Torte

After dinner on Saturday night, we went to the Hotel Sacher Cafe to eat a slice of Sacher Torte in the place it was invented. If you really liked the Sacher Torte, you could buy a boxed cake to take along, or have it shipped to a recipient overseas.

More Saturday Night: The Wiener Prater

After the Hotel Sacher, we visited the Wiener Prater, an amusement park on the edge of the Danube River. There was a whole collection of rides and various amusements, but the most famous (and photogenic) by far is the Wiener Riesenrad, a giant Ferris wheel originally built in the 1890s. Each car is more like a train car or a small room than anything else (you can rent one car out as a catered banquet room) -- amazingly, we got one all to ourselves.

Sunday: Schönbrunn Palace

On Sunday morning, we went out to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Hapsburg Emperors. We took the 40-room "Grand Tour" through the building, then I went to walk in the gardens. I think that Schönbrunn is more impressive than Versailles (although Versailles does let you take pictures indoors ...)
The palace gardens, with the Gloriette on a hill in the background. Neptune, king of the waters, with his court, looking out over . . . an emptied pool of water. (Shh -- nobody tell him . . . ) Standing in Neptune's grotto, looking back at the palace.
A closer look at the Gloriette. Standing in front of the Gloriette, looking back at the palace, with the city spread out beyond. "Roman" "ruins", because every 19th century garden-on-the-grand-scale has to have an ancient temple, or a ruined chapel, or something like that.

Sunday: Stephansdom

In the center of the city (and just a few blocks' walk from our hotel) is St. Stephan's Cathedral. As you can see, the south tower is under repair (and generating a little income while it's at it).
I was struck by just how dark and macabre a suitably old church can be, if you take the time to look in the corners.
I was puzzled as to why this simple "O5" was under glass, while far more elaborate creations were sitting outside, completely exposed -- a helpful plaque on the sidewalk explained that it was the symbol of the Austrian resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II.
Shelby was amused by the fact buying a candle cost exactly fifty-eight cents. Why not sixty cents? Well, 58 cents is as close as you'll get to seven Austrian shillings -- the priests of St. Stephan's must be the only honest men in Europe who didn't surreptitiously raise their prices when the Euro came into effect.
For a few Euro, you could ride a very small elevator to the top of the north tower and look out over the city, as well as admiring the cathedral's intricate roof, which reminded me of nothing more than a giant Lego construction. (The roof segment shown is dated 1950 because much of the cathedral was destroyed during the war and rebuilt during the recovery.)
After riding down from the roof, we took the once-every-half-hour catacombs tour -- extremely recommended! The tour begins in the clean and well-maintained older section of the catacombs, where bishops, important priests, and members of the Hapsburg dynasty are buried (each Hapsburg's body parts were actually parcelled out between three different locations); it then moves into the newer (but older-looking section), where the common people were buried and bones are piled on top of each other in giant heaps.

Trains and Trams

Like most large European cities we've visited, Vienna has a superlative mass-transit system.
Shelby didn't think as much of the Viennese train system as I did, but I think that she was just put off by this sign (appearing in every train car ...) Please make your seat available for pregnant women, mothers with children, the blind, and Sigmund Freud.
But I'll forgive the Viennese anything, even the occasional Beißkorb, as long as they keep running old-school streetcars like these.

This page last modified on Saturday, April 10, 2004
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