Saturday, August 22, 2015

Visiting Vienna

We recently traveled to Vienna for a long weekend. As the capital of Austria, we knew it would be a city filled with culture, but we were so impressed with the city as a whole. The food was delicious and no matter where you were in the city, you were surrounded by impressive architecture.

Our first stop was the Stephansdom church. After extensive damage during World War II, the citizens of Vienna rebuilt the cathedral as a symbol of national solidarity after the horrors of the war. The church houses the "Pummerin" bell, Austria's largest and heaviest bell. It rings only once a year, at midnight on New Year's Eve. It's said that Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he realized he could no longer hear the bells.

Our next stop was to the Mozarthaus. Mozart lived in more than 13 houses while he resided in Vienna, and he lived in this one the longest (about 3 years). We couldn't take any pictures inside his house. Most of the museum was dedicated to explaining a few of his operas (The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro). Mozart's obsession with the high life, especially gambling, left him in a serious amount of debt. He died a pauper and was buried in a mass grave in St. Marx Cemetery.

Another impressive church in Vienna is the St. Peter's Church. It is Vienna's first Christian church built at a time when Vienna was still a Roman camp under the name of Vindobona. It was rebuilt in the 18th century by Lukas von Hildebrandt. Maybe we are related to this famous architect? Mass has been celebrated here for more than 1600 years!

The Plague Column in the middle of the street was erected to commemorate Vienna's deliverance from the plague of 1679.

Cafe Sacher is world-famous for their Sachertorte. We didn't try the cake because the guide books all said the flavor of the cake was overrated. Dozens of tourists were standing in line though to try the pricey slice of cake.

Vienna has so many gardens throughout the city. We walked through Burggarten and saw so many people enjoying the cool water of the pond and shade from the trees.

The Mozart statue draws big crowds taking picture of one of Vienna's most famous residents.

The MuseumsQuartier was lined with impressive buildings now housing various museum exhibits.

We then visited Cafe Sperl, the most traditional coffeehouse according to our guidebook.

We ate dinner at Augustinerkeller, an authentic Austrian restaurant located within the ancient brick vaults of a former monastery cellar.

Chris' sirloin steak with onions and fried potatoes
My pork tenderloin skewer with fried potatoes and roasted tomatoes
The next morning we had a typical "Viennese" breakfast; coffee and pastries.

The coffee menu

Enjoying our strudels and coffee
It was so hot in Vienna, luckily the city had these free water fountains scattered around the city so we could stay hydrated!

Next we toured the Hofburg, home of the Habsburg dynasty which ruled Austria for 6 centuries. We toured the Imperial Silver Collection and Sisi-Museum.

The Silver Collection displayed room after room of impressive amounts of beautiful dishes and serving pieces.

Chris listening to his audio guide

Half of this impressive table display

The other half
 Apparently Carnival Cruise ships weren't the first to make animal figures out of towels!

Like the Mozart museum, we couldn't take any pictures in the Sisi Museum. Elizabeth "Sisi" of Bavaria was Vienna' beloved empress. She married her cousin Emperor Franz Joseph I when she was 16, and she had a hard time adjusting to the new public life she led. Sisi was obsessed with beauty and fitness and had many odd and time-consuming beauty rituals, such as wearing a veal facemask at night and washing her floor-length hair with egg yolk and cognac shampoo. She refused to have her portrait painted after her early thirties, so she could always be remembered as young and beautiful.

View from one of Sisi's rooms

Roman ruins

The Spanish Riding School is one of the main attractions in Vienna. The horses weren't performing while we were there, but we did get a peak at them!

 Next we wandered through the Volksgarten (The people's garden).

Theseus Temple

Every street we walked down had buildings with beautiful architecture. Even office buildings and apartments looked like they were royal buildings!

 We waited at noon for the Ankeruhr clock to give us a show. Dozens of us waited and waited for this supposedly delightful display, but after about 10 minutes we realized it was not worth the wait!

After the unimpressive clock show, we walked to Figmuller, the most famous schnitzel restaurant in Vienna.

The schnitzel lived up to its reputation. It was the size of a dinner plate and so thin and delicious. Chris and I split one order, along with a typical German/Austrian salad.

No hot afternoon in Europe is complete without some Italian gelato!

Next we toured the Staatsoper (The State Opera), one of the most famous opera houses in the world.

The Opera has thousands of costumes and set pieces that can't possibly all be stored in the building, so they have several other buildings around the city that store all of these pieces. Trucks are constantly loading and unloading these items since the same show never plays for two nights in a row.
The impressive concert hall
 The Opera House was almost entirely destroyed during WWII, so they used blueprints and pictures to recreate the building, purposefully changing a few details to modernize it.

This was Emperor Josef's private room where he could go to retreat from the opera being performed. Nowadays, you can rent this room for thousands of dollars for your own private event.

A ball is held during Carnival season in the Opera House. Young couples can audition for a chance to perform the Viennese waltz during the ball. The party lasts from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m.!

We took a subway to the Schonbrunn Palace. The palace and surrounding gardens are called the "Versailles of Austria". We didn't have time to tour the actual palace, but the gardens themselves were worth the trip!

Schonbrunn Palace

Fountain of Neptune

We walked up behind the Neptune fountain for a unique few of the palace.

We climbed the hill to reach Gloriette, a gorgeous cafe overlooking the palace with the skyline of Vienna behind it. The neoclassical arcade was built to commemorate the Austro-Hungarian victory over the Prussians in 1775.

The little "cafe" 

Wine and fruit for a little afternoon snack
 This was our view as we enjoyed a little afternoon snack.

After relaxing for a little while in our hotel room, we ventured out to Zwolf Apostelkeller for dinner. This medieval cellar had a rustic, beer-hall atmosphere including live music.

Chris and I both ordered the smoked pork with potato dumplings and sauerkraut.

The musicians were traveling from table to table asking guests to request music. When they got to our table, we tried to tell them that we only spoke English, but when we said we were American, they laughed and said they knew exactly what to play. So we listened to I've Been Working on the Railroad and Home on the Range, apparently the 2 national songs of the United States. Now the whole restaurant knew we were American!

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Naschmarkt, Vienna's largest market. The market has stalls selling local produce, as well as stands with international culinary treats.

Our delicious breakfast of eggs with him
Our final stop was at the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance. This tiny museum documents the early history of National Socialism and the persecution of its opponents.

We had a fantastic long weekend exploring the capital of Austria. 3 days was not enough to see this beautiful city...maybe we can visit it again in the future!