The One with Vienna, Austria

Friday, November 15, 2013

Over Veteran's day weekend we took a trip to Vienna, Austria!
Imagine our delight when we opened up the front door to load up the car and saw this double rainbow - incredible!
The drive was about 5 hours. Fox and Jane were good. The iPad fits right between the front seats, it's perfect. They watched shows and ate snacks and sang songs. Meanwhile I was reading our Rick Steves' Vienna book out loud to Chris to help prepare us for our adventures.
As soon as we crossed the border into Austria we stopped at a gas station to buy a vignette that allowed us to drive on their freeways.
Vignette? Check! Valid for 7 days.
The weather was AMAZING. It's mid-November and we were driving around with the windows down, soaking up the sunshine.
We found an apartment to rent from

Decent floor plan!

There are just a few essentials that we have to have - a bathtub and internet! This place fit the bill so we were quite happy!
We took a quick breather, unpacked, and got everyone dressed to walk around Vienna. Here's Janey ready to take on the world! Or is she? Her little look of hesitation is so cute.

First order of business: find somewhere to park the car. The renter told us about a free parking lot a ways out of town, so we walked back to where we had temporarily parked and enjoyed the setting sun along the way.

We drove right past Prater Park and made a mental note to go back and check it out.
Crossing the bridge over the Danube (and with our visit to Bratislava a few days later, that's four different countries we've been to the Dabube in now - Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria) and checking out the skyscrapers popping up everywhere.
We couldn't find the free parking garage, blast, but we did find one right by the metro station. The lights above each stall were green and automatically turned red if a car parked there. Genius! How does it know?! The other picture below is a view from our room out the back.

To ride the metro we had to buy tickets so Chris got us a 48 hour pass. Kids under 18 are free, woohoo! Vienna's simple, cheap, and super-efficient transit system includes trams (aka streetcars), buses, U-Bahn (subway), and S-Bahn (faster suburban trains) - and they all use the same tickets. The smooth, modern trams are Porsche-designed, with "backpack technology" that locates the engines and mechanical hardware on the roofs for a lower ride and easier entry, especially with those of us who have strollers.
Our first descent of many into the subway system!
I looked over at Fox and laughed out loud cuz he was wearing is cool shades.

Time for the history lesson as we delve into our Austrian adventure!
Vienna is the capital of Austria, the cradle of classical music, the home of the rich Habsburg heritage for 640 years, and one of Europe's most livable cities. Vienna started and lost World War 1 and, with it, its far-flung holdings. Culturally, historically, and touristically, this city is the sum of its illustrious past, ranking right up there with Paris, London, and Rome. The city center is sky-scraper-free, pedestrian-friendly, dotted with quiet parks, and traversed by electric trams. Many buildings still reflect 18th- and 19th-century elegance, when the city was at the forefront of the arts and sciences. For much of its 2500-year history, Vienna (Wien in German - pronounced "veen") was on the frontier of civilized Europe. Located on the south bank of the Danube, it was threatened by Germanic barbarians (in Roman times), marauding Magyars (today's Hungarians in the 10th century), Mongol hordes (13th century), Ottoman Turks (the sieges of 1529 and 1683), and encroachment by the Soviet Empire after World War II. Vienna reached its peak in the 19th century when it became one of Europe's cultural capitals - home to groundbreaking composers (Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Strauss), scientists (Doppler, Boltzmann), philosophers (Freud, Husserl, Schlick), architects (Wagner, Loos), and painters (Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka). The Alps, which arc across Europe from Marseille, end at Vienna's wooded hills. More than half of Vienna is parkland, filled with ponds, gardens, trees, and statue-maker memories of Austria's glory days.
Vienna has always been the easternmost city of the West. In Roman times, it was Vindobona, facing the Germanic barbarians. In the Middle Ages, Vienna was Europe's bastion against the Ottomans - a Christian breakwater against the riding tide of Islam. During this period, as the Ottomans dreams of conquering what they called "the big apple" for their sultan, Vienna lived with a constant fear of invasion (and the Habsburg court ruled from safer Prague.) You'll notice none of Vienna's great palaces were built until after 1683 when the Turkish threat was finally over.
The Habsburgs, who ruled the enormous Austrian Empire from 1273 to 1918, shaped Vienna. Some ad agency has convinced Vienna to make Elisabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Josef - with her narcissism and struggles with royal life - the darling of the local tourist scene. You'll see images of Sisi all over town. But stay focused on the Habsburgs who mattered: Maria Theresa (ruled 1740-1780) and Franz Josef (ruled 1848-1916).
After Napoleon's defeat and the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Vienna enjoyed its violin-filled belle époque, giving us our romantic image of the city: chocolates, cafes, waltzes, and the good life. In 1900, Vienna's 2.2 million inhabitants made it the world's 5th largest city - after New York, London, Paris, and Berlin. While Vienna's old walls had held out would-be invaders, they were no match for WWII bombs, which destroyed nearly a quarter of the city's buildings. Vienna's population has dropped to 1.7 million with dogs being the preferred "child" and the average Viennese mother having only 1.3 children.
Think of the city map as a target with concentric sections: The bull's eye is St. Stephen's Cathedral. Surrounding that is the old town, bound tightly by the circular road known as the Ringstrasse, marking what used to be the city wall. The Gürtel, a broader ring road, contains the rest of downtown. Much of Vienna's sightseeing are located in the old town, inside the Ringstrasse. In the 1860s, Emperor Franz Josef had the city's ingrown medieval wall torn down and replaced with a grand boulevard 190 feet wide. The road, arcing nearly three miles around the city's cathedral, predates all the buildings that line it.

The first thing we wanted to do was take the trams around the Ringstrasse to familiarize ourselves with the city. The tour began right across the street from the Opera House (which I'll describe later). 
Even after reading through the "Ringstrasse Tram Tour" chapter twice in my guide book, the tram was still much too fast for me to comprehend all that I was seeing. You're supposed to look left and right multiple times every minute and it stressed me out. I couldn't get good pictures either so I said 'forget it' and just sat back to soak it all in.

We passed the Hotel Imperial - the choice of nearly every visiting big shot, from the Rolling Stones to Queen Elizabeth. Why didn't we stay here? :)
The Burg theater, Austria's national theater. Locals brag it's the "leading theater in the German-speaking world."
Rather than continue the rest of the way around the Ringstrasse we got off and backtracked a bit to the City Hall. 
They were setting up for Christmas-time which starts on the 14th - we were just a week too early!
The city hall (Rathaus) is a Neo-gothic building and the square in front (Rathausplatz) is a festive site often filled with markets and vendors. In December the City Hall becomes a huge Advent calendar with 24 windows opening - one each day - as Christmas approaches. So fun!
Just as we were standing there admiring, the lights turned on and we went "ooooooh!"
The sun was setting quickly - it was only like 4pm! So we hurried down the street to see a chunk of the old city wall behind a gilded angel column.
Above the old city wall is the building in which Beethoven lived and composed for 11 years. 

Beethoven! He's a BFD!
Across the street from Beethoven's old digs is the University of Vienna. 
Established in 1365, the university has no real campus as its buildings are scattered around town. It's considered the oldest continuously operating university in the German-speaking world.

Checking out the city at night - even though it was only 4pm. Wow it gets dark early here!

Riding the subway back to our apartment. We stopped at a grocery store to get some essentials and found the most ginormous advent calendars. I want one.

The kids woke up at 5:30am. Yes, you read that right. I don't know why they wake up so gosh darn early when we're on vacation, but we just gotta roll with the punches. It gets light earlier in Vienna than home so we were able to head out by 7am.
We walked past the church right next to our apartment. 

And got on the U-1 subway line.
Down down down we go!
We stopped at a little bakery inside the subway system and got some baked goods.
This can't be a real car.
We had trouble finding where we wanted to go - I'm kind of map impaired - but at least we got to see neat buildings along the way!

We finally found our destination: the Naschmarkt (roughly "Munchies Market").
Totally reminds me of Pike Place Market in Seattle.
In 1898 the city decided to cover up its Vienna River. The long, wide square they created was filled with a lively produce market that still bustles every day except Sunday. It's long been known as the place to get exotic, faraway foods.
The Naschmarkt stretches along Wienzeile street. This "Belly of Vienna" comes with two parallel lanes - one lined with fun and reasonable eateries and the other featuring the town's top-end produce and gourmet goodies. This is where top chefs like to get their ingredients (reminds me of "first pick" in that scene from Ratatouille). Farther from the center the Naschmarkt becomes likeably seedy and surrounded by sausage stands, yum. Each Saturday the Naschmarkt is infested by a huge flea market.
At the market's far end is a line of buildings with fine Art Nouveau facades.

Continuing on back to the beginning of the Naschmarkt is this building called The Secession - strategically located behind the Academy of Fine Arts, it was created by the Vienna Secession movement, a group of nonconformist artists led by Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner, and friends.
The young trees carved into the walls and the building's bushy "golden cabbage" rooftop are symbolic of a renewal cycle. The Secession showcases cutting-edge art.

Just a cool building. Where people live?
Then it was time to do the Rick Steves' guided walk! My favorite thing to do in cities. It started at the Opera House - a central point for any visitor. Vienna remains one of the world's great cities for classical music, and this building still belts out some of the finest opera, both classic and cutting-edge. It's typical of Vienna's 19th-century buildings in that it features a revival style - Neo-Renaissance - with arched windows, half-columns, and the sloping, copper mansard roof typical of French Renaissance châteaux. While the critical reception of the building 130 years ago led the architect to commit suicide (sad), and though it's been rebuilt since its destruction by WWII bombs, it's still a sumptuous place. Since the structure was built in 1869, almost all of the opera world's luminaries have passed through here. The interior has a chandeliered lobby and carpeted staircases perfect for making the scene.
There were only two English tours offered today, and we already toured the Opera House in Budapest which is supposed to one-up this one, and the kids were not on their best behavior when the tour times finally came 'round, so we put it on our "to do next time" list.

In the pavement along the side of the Opera (and all along the streets in front), there are star plaques forming a Hollywood-style walk of fame. These represent the stars of classical music - famous composers, singers, musicians, and conductors.

Next on the list: Hotel Sacher. This is the home of the world's classiest chocolate cake, the Sacher-Torte: two layers of cake separated by apricot jam and covered in dark-chocolate icing, served with whipped cream. Sounds deadly, right?!
Sacher-Torte was invented in a fit of improvisation in 1832 by Franz Sacher, dessert chef to Prince Metternich (the mastermind diplomat who redrew the map of post-Napoleonic Europe). The cake became world famous when the inventor's son served it next door at his hotel.
We couldn't pass up an opportunity to eat such delectable goods so we went inside!
Fancy stuff man!

Wow. Does that look yummy or what?
And we got a cuppa hot chocolate to even the score.
Enjoying our sweets!
Next we came across the Albertina Museum.

This building, at the southern tip of the Hofburg palace complex, was the residence of Maria Theresa's favorite daughter, Maria Christina, who was the only one allowed to mary for love rather than political strategy. Her many sisters were jealous. Maria Christina's husband, Albert of Saxony, was a great collector of original drawings and amassed an enormous assortment of works by Dürer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Schiele, and others. As it's Albert and Christina's gallery, it's cleverly called "Albertina." So hip. The Albertina is topped by a sleek, controversial titanium canopy (called "the diving board" by critics). Chris and I both think it doesn't fit.

Surrounding the Albertina are statues and monuments. Here is the Monument Against War and Fascism which commemorates the dark years when Austria came under Nazi rule (1938-1945). The piece is a group of four statues. The split white monument (below, left), is The Gates of Violence, which remembers victims of all wars and violence. The 1945 declaration that established Austria's second republic - and enshrined human rights - is cut into stone (below, right).

This hunched over figure on the ground is a Jew forced to scrub anti-Nazi graffiti off a street with a toothbrush. Of Vienna's 200,000 Jews, more than 65,000 died in Nazi concentration camps.

From the monument we walked to Kärntner Strasse (KAYRNT-ner SHTRAH-seh). This grand, traffic-free street is the people-watching delight of this in-love-with-life city. Today's Kärntner Strasse is mostly a crass commercial pedestrian mall - its famed elegant shops long gone. But locals know it's the same road Crusaders marched down as they headed off from St. Stephen's Cathedral for the Holy Land in the 12th century. Its name indicates that it leads south, toward the region of Kärnten (Carinthia, a province divided between Austria and Slovenia).
Near the end of the block, on the left at #26, J & L Lobmeyr Crystal (founded in 1823) still has its impressive brown storefront with gold trim, statues, and the Habsburg double-eagle. In the market for some $400 napkin rings? Lobmeyr's your place.

Walking down Kärntner Strasse.
Then we headed into the Imperial Crypt of the Kaisergruft - it's filled with what's left of Austrian's emperors, empresses, and other Habsburg royalty.
Well, first we walked into the wrong place, a church on the left, but it still had some tombs inside and decor worth taking pictures!

Then we went inside the Kaisergruft and saw the fanciest pewter tombs I've ever seen.

I swear the creators of Pirates of the Caribbean got their inspiration from these tombs.

Flanking the tomb of Franz Josef is his son, the archduke Rudolf, and Empress Elisabeth - aka THE Sisi.

The biggest, most massive pewter double-coffin of them all under the dome belongs to Maria Theresa (1717-1780) and her husband, Franz I (1708 - 1765).

Maria Theresa outlived her husband by 15 years which she spent in mourning. Old and fat, she installed a special lift enabling her to get down into the crypt to be with her dear, departed Franz (even though he had been a far cry from faithful). The couple recline - Etruscan-style - atop their fancy lead coffin. At each corner are the crowns of the Habsburgs - the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, Bohemia, and Jerusalem.
A baby tomb - one of Maria Theresa's children. Makes me sad to think about.
Thought the sun shining in through the window on this one was cool looking.
Enough of the macabre - we climbed back up and out.

In the center of Neuer Markt is the four rivers fountain showing Lady Providence surrounded by figures symbolizing the rivers that flow into the Danube.
The modern buildings around the fountain were rebuilt after World War II. Half of the city's inner center was intentionally destroyed by Churchill to demoralize the Viennese, who were disconcertingly enthusiastic about the Nazis.

We stopped for a recommended sweet treat at the heavenly Kurkonditorei Oberlaa.
What to get what to get?
Three macaroons!
Inner city beauty.

Pink chairs! Love!
Walking down Kärntner Strasse again. Back in my teenage years I would have LOVED to go shopping here. 
We rounded the corner and feasted our eyes upon the skyscraping spire at the center of the city: St. Stephen's Cathedral.
This massive Gothic church's highlights are the impressive exterior, the view from the top of the south tower, a carved pulpit, and a handful of quirky sights associated with Mozart and the Habsburg rulers.
When it was built, it was a huge church for a what was then a tiny town of 10,000, covering almost an acre of land, and it helped put the fledgling city on the map. This massive church is the Gothic needle around which Vienna spins. According to the medieval vision of its creators, it stands like a giant jeweled reliquary, offering praise to God from the center of the city. The cathedral has survived Vienna's many wars and today symbolizes the city's spirit and love of freedom.

The church we see today is the third one on this spot. It dates mainly from 1300 to 1450 when builders expanded on an earlier structure and added two huge towers at the end of each transept.

The immense nave of the cathedral is more than a football field long and nine stories tall. It's lined with clusters of slender pillars that soar upward to support the ribbed crisscross of the ceiling. Stylistically, the nave is Gothic with a Baroque overlay. It's a spacious, glorious venue that's often used for high-profile concerts.
Over the main doorway is the choir loft with a 10,000-pipe organ, a 1960 replacement for the famous one destroyed in WWII. This organ is also one of Europe's biggest, but it's currently broken and sits unused... too large to remove. That's sad. Get on that Austria! I guess architects aren't sure whether it serves a structural purpose and adds support to the actual building. My counter to that is - we've sent men to the moon, I'm sure someone could figure this problem out.
The massive cathedral and the gated entrance to the Chapel of Prince Eugene of Savoy.
There are lots of other fun and interesting things about St. Stephen's cathedral - pages and pages worth. But I've got to leave some stuff up to you to figure out :)

The impressive 450-foot south tower - capped with a golden orb and cross - took two generations to build (65 years) and was finished in 1433. The tower was once key to the city's defense as a lookout point. In the left picture, beneath the statue in the column, look for the Turkish cannonball, marked with the date 1683 - a remnant of one of several Ottoman sieges of teh city.

I hiked the 343 tightly wound steps up the spiral staircase and burned one Sacher-Torte worth of calories doing so.
Telescope in the window | Locks on the windows cuz that's a "thing" now.
The views were i.n.c.r.e.d.i.b.l.e.
It was fun to try and find places we'd been to and still wanted to see. I spy the City Hall!
The town below. 
So colorful and pretty!

The colorful tiled roof has a double-headed Habsburg eagle, the date 1831 (can only see the 18 here) and the initials FI for Emperor Franz I who ruled when the roof was installed.
I nearly threw up coming back down those spiraled, tightly-wound stairs so fast... 

Then we walked down a street called Graben - once a ditch, originally the moat for the Roman military camp. Back during Vienna's 19th-century heyday, there were nearly 200,000 people packed into the city's inner center (inside the Ringstrasse), walking through dirt streets. Today this area houses only 20,000. Graben was a busy street with three lanes of traffic until the 1970s when it was turned into one of Europe's first pedestrian-only zones. In the middle of Graben Street is the extravagant Holy Trinity Plague column.

The 60-foot pillar of clouds sprouts angels and cherubs with the wonderfully gilded Father, Son, and Holy Ghost at the top (all protected by an anti-pigeon net). In 1679 Vienna was hit by a massive epidemic of bubonic plague. Around 75,000 people died - about a third of the city. Emperor Leopold I dropped to his knees and (something emperors never did in public) and begged God to save the city. Leopold is about halfway up the statue with a massive underbite because of all the family's interbreeding. In gratitude, Leopold vowed to erect this monument, which became a model for other cities ravaged by the same plague.

Wedged between buildings is St. Peter's Church. Baroque Vienna is at its finest in this gem, tucked away a few steps from the Graben. Leopold I ordered this church to be built as a thank you for surviving the 1679 plague.

We admired the rose and gold, oval-shaped Baroque interior, topped with a ceiling fresco of Mary kneeling to be crowned by Jesus and the Father while the dove of the Holy Spirit floats away.

Taken together, this church's elements - especially the organ, altar painting, pulpit, and coat of arms of church founder Leopold I - make St. Peter's one of the city's most beautiful and ornate churches. But don't take my word for it, just check out the pictures!:

The present church (from 1733) stands atop earlier churches dating back 1600 years. On either side of the nave are glass cases containing skeletons of Christian martyrs from Roman times.

Back outside, we continued our tour. In about 1900 a local chemical-maker needed a publicity stunt to prove that his chemicals really got things clean. He purchased two wine cellars under Graben and had them turned into classy bathrooms in the Modernist style (designed by Adolf Loos), complete with chandeliers and finely crafted mahogany. While the chandeliers are gone, the restrooms remain in a relatively appealing place to do your business - in fact, they are so inviting they're used for poetry readings...
So, yes, I took pictures of a toilet.

Gotta document the famous potties!
Then we walked along Kohlmarkt - Vienna's most elegant and unaffordable shopping street, lined with Carier, Armani, Gucci, Tiffany, and as if to prove a point, the emperor's palace at the end.

Here's Demel - the ultimate Viennese chocolate shop. So we made our third dessert stop for the day.
The store is filled with Art Nouveau boxes of Empress Sisi's chocolate dreams come true: Kandierte Veilchen (candied violet petals), Katzenzungen (cats' tongues... really? ew...) and so on. The cakes here are moist. Shops like this boast "K.u.K." - signifying that during the Habsburg's heyday it was patronized by the König and Kaiser (king and emperor - same dude). 
The enticing Demel window displays change monthly, reflecting current happenings in Vienna. 
At the end of the fancy schmany ritzy ditzy Kohlmarkt Street is the Hofburg Palace. The complex, confusing, and imposing Imperial Palace, with 640 years of architecture to boot. This first Habsburg residence grew with the family empire from the 13th century until 1913 when the last "new wing" opened. The winter residence of the Habsburg rulers until 1918, it's still home to the Austrian president's office, 5000 government workers, and several important museums.
In the center of Michaelerplatz (where the palace begins) there is a scant bit of Roman Vienna exposed just beneath street level.

We wanted to see the Spanish Riding School - home of the Lipizzaner stallions, but alas, it wasn't open when we went and it costs a pretty pretty penny. Lipizzaner stallions were a creation of horse-loving Habsburg Archduke Charles who wanted to breed the perfect animal. He imported Andulasian horses from his homeland of Spain then mated them with a local line to produce an extremely intelligent and easily trainable breed. Italian and Arabian bloodlines were later added to tweak various characteristics. Lipizzaner stallions are known for their noble gait and Baroque profile. They're always born black, fade to gray, and turn a distinctive white in adulthood. Maybe this is a retired pair of Lipizzaner stallions we saw going under the Hofburg Palace?

We emerged through the rotunda into the main courtward of the Hofburg called In der Burg.

The Caesar-like statue is of Habsburg Emperor Franz II (1768-1835), grandson of Maria Theresa, grandfather of Franz Josef, and father-in-law of Napoleon. Behind him is a tower with three kinds of clocks. To his right are the Imperial Apartments (have to go back and see cuz they're supposedly amazing) and to the left are the offices of Austria's mostly ceremonial president (the more powerful chancellor lives in a building just behind this courtyard).

We walked through a tunnel and entered Heldenplatz (Heroe's Square). This is the impressive New Palace. 
This vast wing was built in the early 1900s to be the new Habsburg living quarters (and was meant to have a matching building facing it). But in 1914 the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand - while waiting politely for his long-lived uncle, Emperor Franz Josef, to die - was assassinated in Sarajevo. The archduke's death sparked World War I and the eventual end of eight centuries of Habsburg rule. 

In 1938 over 200,000 Viennese gathered here on Heldenplatz, entirely filling Heroes' Square, to welcome Adolf Hitler and celebrate their annexation with Germany. 

We walked on through the Greek-columned passageway - the Äußere Burgtor, an old castle gate.
On the outskirts of the Hofburg Palace are the twin museums - the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Natural History Museum. They look identical. 
Here is the Kunsthistorisches Museum. 
This exciting museum showcases the grandeur and opulence of the Habsburgs' collected artwork in a grand building (built in 1888 just for the purpose of displaying these works). While there's little Viennese art here, there are world-class European masterpieces galore - including canvases by Raphael, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Dürer, Rubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Bruegels - all well-displayed in one glorious floor.

And on the opposite side, looking exactly the same as the Kunsthistorisches Museum, is the Natural History Museum:
Here you'll find moonrocks, dinosaur stuff, and the fist-sized Venus of Willendorf - at 25,000 years old, the world's oldest sex symbol, pardon my French. Since Chris and I are both Art History buffs (heck, we MET in an Art History class eons ago) we really wanted to see the Venus of Willdendorf, but at €10 a pop it didn't see worth it right now. Next time :)

Between the museums is a huge monument to Maria Theresa.
Vienna's biggest monument shows the empress holding a scroll from her father granting the right of a woman to inherit his throne. The statues and reliefs surrounding her speak volumes about her reign. I won't go into details, you can google it if you want :)
Maria Theresa was the only woman to officially rule the Habsburg Empire in that family's 640-year reign. She was a strong and effective empress. She had 16 children - 10 survived into adulthood. Imagine that the most powerful woman in Europe was either pregnant or had a newborn for most of her reign. The last of the Baroque imperial rulers and the first of the modern rulers of the Age of Enlightenment, Maria Theresa marked the end of the feudal system and the beginning of the era of the grand state. She was a great social reformer. During her reign, she avoided wars and expanded her empire by skillfully marrying her children into the right families. For instance, after daughter Marie-Antoinette's marriage into the French Bourbon family (to Louis XVI) a country that had been an enemy became an ally. Unfortunately Marie-Antoinette was beheaded by her husband. Maria Theresa taxed the Church and nobility, provided six years of obligatory education to all children, and granted free health care to all in her realm. She also welcomed the boy genius Mozart into her court.

Standing here, it's fascinating to consider Austrian aspirations for greatness through the ages. Had World War I not messed things up for them, the Habsburgs would have created a cast cultural forum stretching from here across the Ringstrasse. While they never fully realized their vision, the ensemble that was completed is impressive.
Riding the subway back to the apartment for a much needed nap.
After naps we headed straight to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. 
The Kunsthistorisches Museum houses the family collection of Austria's luxury-loving Habsburg rulers. Their joie de vivre is reflected in this collection - some of the most beautiful art from two centuries (1450-1650). At their peak of power in the 1500s, the Habsburgs ruled Austria, Germany, northern Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain - and there is a wide variety of art from all of these places and beyond.
The building itself is worth notice - a lavish textbook example of Historicsm. Despite its palatial feel, it was originally designed for the same purpose it serves today: to showcase its treasures in an inviting space while impressing visitors with the grandeur of the empire.

Chris was in heaven. I let him take over the camera for this part of our adventure.

Daaaaaang this is a cool room.
A real life, honest to goodness Raphael - Madonna of the Meadow.

The Art of Painting by Jan Vermeer.

Fox and Chris studying the Vermeer.
Walking down Opernringstrasse. Taking in all the beauty of the earth.

A famous statue of Mozart. I love the dirt treble clef in the ground. In the summer it's filled with flowers.

Proof I was actually here in Vienna!

Our final destination for the night was around Karlsplatz - a picnic-friendly square with a Henry Moore sculpture in the (now empty for the winter) pond. Fox loved running around in the empty pond - I wonder if they turn it into an ice-skating rink? They should! And Chris went all "stroller extreme" up the skateboarding ramps.

This is Karlskirche - or St. Charles' Church.
Charles Borromeo, a 16th-century bishop from Milan, inspired his parishioners during plague times. This "votive church" was dedicated to him in 1713 when an epidemic spared Vienna.

The dome's colorful 13,500-square-foot fresco - painted in the 1730s by Johann Michael Rottmayr, shows Signor Borromeo gazing up into heaven, spreading his arms wide, and pleading with Christ to spare Vienna from the plague.

We took advantage of the renovations currently taking place and rode the elevator up to the top. The industrial lift took us up to a platform at the base of the 235-foot dome. It made me soooo scared. Consider that the church was built and decorated with a scaffolding system essentially the same as this one, except without all our wonderful technology.

At the tippy top many details that appear smooth and beautiful from the ground looked like modern art from up close!
It was neat to go up so high into the dome and see the interior of this gorgeous church.
Chris wanted me to take pictures of these statues of Christopher Columbus and Adam Smith.

For dinner we stopped at one of the many stands and I got currywurst and Chris got Wiener schnitzel, since we were in Wien.
It was THE BEST currywurst I've ever had. Man. I'm craving some right about now.
Chris was so proud of his authentic Austrian meal - apparently Red Bull is from Austria.

Again, the kids were up at the crack of dawn. We didn't have anything planned until 9:15am so we decided to wander over to Prater Park and check out the Ferris Wheel we saw when we first arrived in Vienna.
Since the 1780s, when the reformist Emperor Josef II gave his hunting grounds to the people of Vienna as a public park, this place has been Vienna's playground. For the tourist "Prater" is a sugary-smelling, sprawling amusement park. For locals, the "Prater" is the vast, adjacent green park with its three-mile-long, tree-lined main boulevard. The park still tempts visitors with its huge 220-foot-tall, famous, and lazy Ferris wheel, roller coasters, bumper cars, Lilliputian railroad, and endless eateries.
There weren't gates or anything or anybody stopping us from going in to walk around and take a looksy - so in we went!

It was actually kind of creepy to be all alone in a place that should be bustling with life and excitement!

I LOVED the colors of this carousel-ride-thingy.
Another Ferris wheel and another pic of the lovely carousel.
So. Many. Rides! Looks like So. Much. Fun!
We said we'd come back at night if we had time. Didn't happen. Maybe next time :)

The Volkstheater - roughly translated as "People's Theater" was founded in 1889 by request of the citizens of Vienna, amongst them the dramatist Ludwig Anzengruber and the furniture manufacturer Thonet, in order to offer a popular counter weight to the Hofburgtheater. It was erected according to designs by Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, who attempted to reconcile their plans with historicism.
We walked past the MuseumsQuartier - the vast grounds of the former imperial stables now corral a cutting-edge cultural center for contemporary arts and design, including several impressive museums. We use our kids as an excuse a lot to not go in places, but we had places to go and people to see so we continued on.
Walking once again down Opernringstrasse.
A Goethe statue created in 1900.
A cool building. I never tire of cool-looking buildings.
Pretty, textural tree.
The back of the Hofburg palace.
Since it was Sunday we wanted to go and hear The Vienna Boys' Choir. They sing at the 9:15am mass in the Hofburg Imperial Music Chapel. But alas, they were off touring. An older version of the choir was there, but everyone was being so quiet and reverent, we knew Fox and Jane would get us kicked out, so we took a preemptive measure and skipped it. Another "next time" event to look forward to!

Little nubes. Love them so.

We were anxious to tour the Hofburg Treasury - one of the world's most stunning collections of royal regalia! The Hofburg Treasury shows off sparkling crowns, jewels, gowns, scepters, swords, weighty robes, gem-studded bangles, orbs, double-headed eagles, a unicorn horn (!!), and assorted Habsburg bling in 21 darkened rooms.

The Habsburgs saw themselves as the successors to the ancient Roman emperors and they wanted crowns and royal regalia to match the pomp of the ancients. They used these precious objects for coronation ceremonies, official ribbon-cutting events, and their own personal pleasure.

The personal crown of Rudolf II (1602) and his matching scepter made from the ivory tusk of a narwhal.

The Cradle of the King of Rome - once occupied by Napoleon's son who was born in 1811 and made King of Rome. Now THAT is a cradle... holy moly.

Baptismal dress.
Fox checkin' out some things.
Fox checkin' out a frame filled with skeletons. He loves skeletons.
Lots and lots of pretties did we see.

A unicorn horn! Not really, it's a narwhal tusk, but let's just say it's a unicorn horn.

John the Baptist's tooth, supposedly. And a pretty chandelier.

The collection's highlight is the 10th-century crown of the Holy Roman Emperor. It was probably made for Otto I (960), the first king to call himself that.
Well. That was quite somethin'! An amazing collection, indeed.

We walked back through the Hofburg Palace and made our way back to our apartment.

And thus concludes our time in Vienna!
Places we didn't go but absolutely HAVE to come back to see:
Belvedere Palace (the elegant palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), the still-much-appreciated conqueror of the Ottomans.
Hundertwasserhaus Haus - a complex of 50 apartments, subsidized by the government to provide affordable housing and built in the 1980s as a breath of architectural fresh air in a city of boring, block apartment complexes.
Schönbrunn Palace - a palace rivaling Versailles - is a former summer residence of the Habsburgs and is BIG - with 1441 rooms.
A Walk in the Vienna Woods to get an amazing view of all of Vienna.
 Then we were off to Bratislava, Slovakia! Coming soon to a blog near you :)


  1. Very interesting and informative post. I love to read your blog and looking forward to your next adventure :)

  2. You guys are seriously traveling the world! How fun! I never thought I'd go to Slovakia, so I'm excited to see what you guys do there next! :)

  3. I know where your apartment was! When I was there, I saw that church and some teenager walked into it, drank the holy water, and walked off. Gross! Also, Marie-Antoinette's husband didn't behead her, it was "the people."

  4. What an amazing city!!! I am enjoying seeing your adventures and a part of the world I am not sure I will ever see. I chuckled at your comment about the little cars. I see the little Smart Cars here around the Twin Cities. My hubby and I say all it needs is the big key in the back to wind it up, as it looks like a wind up toy. LOL

  5. Amazing photo of the double rainbow, Paige! And I love all of the gorgeous architecture you capture in the photos!


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