The morning after the night before. No we did not have hang-overs, but whilst we were at A&E having Lyn’s ankle checked, the rest of the cycling group enjoyed a last evening meal together in a local restaurant. We all met up at breakfast time in the hotel and had a final chat with Andre. Some were staying on to explore Vienna (as were we), and others heading off to other parts of Austria or flying home. Vienna has an interesting history and we looked forward to experiencing a small part of it.
Vienna was originally a Celtic settlement and then a Roman Garrison but was reduced to ruins by the 5th century following numerous invasions and wars . By the 13th Century the German Babenberg dynasty had developed Vienna into a major trading centre but later control passed to the Habsburg family. Invasion and war were never far away and in the 16th century Turkish invasions destroyed the outskirts of the city and threatened the centre. The Turks were eventually defeated and over the next two centuries Vienna flourished with many large palaces and buildings being constructed within the city centre and the suburbs. Over time, Vienna became a major cultural and imperial centre but this progress was halted when in 1809, Napoleon invaded Austria and deposed the sitting Emperor Franz 1. He demolished part of the city wall defences and married the Emperor’s daughter! His reign did not last long however and in 1814, after Napoleon’s defeat and exile Emperor Frans Josef assumed the throne of Austria. The influence and power of the Habsburgs was waning but nevertheless Franz Josef still managed to create one of Vienna’s most famous grandiose schemes, namely the Ringstrasse, a large 19th century boulevard, linking new cultural and political institutions. Grand ornate architecture built by gifted architects and developers dominated this area and once again Vienna became a major trading and intellectual centre within Europe.
The beginning of the 20th century ushered in the age of artistic and intellectual activity and by 1914 the population had grown to two million as people from the greater empire came to this vibrant centre to live and work. The Habsburg Empire was in gradual decline however and by the end of WW1 it was clear that the country had many social problems resulting in the abdication of the then Emperor, Karl 1st in 1918. Austria then became a republic. Two decades of political strife between left and right ended with Anschluss in 1938 and Adolf Hitler becoming head of state. After WW2 the occupying powers granted a new state of Austria in 1955 and permanent neutrality agreed. Vienna now hosts one of three United Nations Headquarters and has become the base for a number of international organisations. Only in 1995 did Austria join the EU.
Normally, when we visit a city we tend to walk everywhere, but with Lyn’s ankle still tender and sore, walking longer distances was not an option. The best way to get about and see the sights was to use the hop-on-hop off tourist bus.
Another day, another bus ride!
We purchased a 48 hour pass, which would cover us until Monday lunchtime. The ticket came with free ear pieces to listen to a commentary, interspersed with music by Strauss and other Austrian composers. By the end of the visit we would get heartily sick of this music. There were 4 routes to follow so over the next three days we decided to follow each one and hop off at any point that interested us. Also included was a one hour walking tour, more of which later.
As well as a varied social history, Vienna has a rich musical history and our first hop off destination was the Vienna State Opera House, a magnificent building in the centre of Vienna’s cultural district. Wide boulevards provide an air of space around but despite this, the square was packed with tourists and with people dressed in period costume offering tickets to future performances. There are warnings about ticket touts in the area, folk not being what they claim to be, but most seemed to be doing a brisk trade. Musical productions are performed every day of the year and this grand building hosts one of the highlights of the Vienna social calendar, namely the Grand Opera Ball. Each winter the Opera Ball season runs in January and February and it is the highlight of the Viennese social calendar. Tradition states that the dancing is led by young people aged between 17 and 24, and tickets for these events can cost up to 20,000 euros. Austria’s high society is much in evidence.
Top left: Ticket Seller at the Opera house; Top right and bottom: Two views of the Oper House
Nearby is Maria-Theresien-Plaz, the centre piece of which is a statue of Maria-Theresa, the first Empress of Austria who acceded to the throne in 1740. It depicts her clasping the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 which made it possible for a woman to assume the throne on the death of the incumbent. Around are formal gardens, and either side of the square noted museum buildings on either side, The Natural History and The History of Art. These lavish buildings, constructed by the Habsburg monarchs attract over 1 million visitors each year and most of them seemed to be there at the same time as us. Selfie sticks everywhere it was not a pleasant place to be, despite the grandeur of the buildings, so we lingered a while in the square, enjoying the sunshine, then left!
Clockwise from top left: Natural History Museum; Maria-Therese-Plaz; Statue of Maria-Therese; History of Art Museum.
To the south of the city centre lies the Schloss Schonbrunn, an enormous palace originally designed as the summer residence for the Imperial Family and built between 1695 and 1713. Improvements were made between 1817-1819 when it gained its yellow frontage. This grand, opulent edifice sits at the far end of a massive courtyard which, when we visited was full of tourists streaming in and out. We stayed for coffee and watched the crowds flood in from coaches parked outside but decided not to go inside. Back on the open-top bus we alighted close to the Botanical Gardens and ambled gently through then it was a gentle walk in the warm sunshine back to the Opera House.
Clockwise from top left: Schloss Schonnbrun and open courtyard; Re-enactment staff at the Schloss; Army Barracks nearby; Another staff member.
Clockwise from top left: Buskers in the square; One of many statues and munuments; Viennese street corner; Reflections of old and new.
Part of the package for our bus ticket was a free guided walk however, as Lyn’s ankle was still swollen, I went alone. The walk was about an hour long and covered the area around the Opera House and the Hoffburg complex of buildings. Once again the splendour of the buildings was evident. As well as being the state residence of the President, and Prime Minister, and the Austrian Parliament building. Other buildings include the State Library, The Spanish Riding School, where the famed Lipizaner horses are kept, and the Burgkapelle, home to the famed Vienna Boys Choir.
Clockwise from top left: The arches opposite Maria-Theresa-platz into Hero’s Square; Film Museum; Two views of Hoffburg complex
From the Hoffburg complex, the walk moved into a pedestrianised area with exclusive shops, the sort where there are no prices displayed on the goods for sale and if you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it! Once again the architecture was classical Viennese.
Left and Centre: St Stephens Cathedral (The Stephansdom)
The walk ended outside the Stephansdom, (St Stephens Cathedral) Vienna’s most famous landmark and regarded as Austria’s finest gothic edifice. It’s origins date back to 1147 but nothing earlier than the 13th Century Giant’s door and the Heathen Tower still exist. Numerous Habsburg rulers left their mark on this building with renovations and extensions. It suffered severe damage from bombing during WW2 but the Viennese saw its rebuilding as symbol of hope as the country emerged from years of strife and conflict. The guide did not take us in, and looking at the crowds stood outside, which I reckoned must have been close to 1000, I decided not to stop by on my way back to our hotel. The walk was not one of the best I have done. We started with 8 people and ended with 4, which probably summed the whole thing up!
One final bus tour remained, out to the villages to the north west of Vienna. But first, time to sample the famed cafe life of Vienna. I had already sampled the Sacher Torte in a cafe close to our hotel but our destination for morning coffee was reputed to be one of the best in Vienna, Cafe Landtmann. This cafe is where Sigmund Freud took his daily caffeine fix, as well as famous actors politicians and the affluent and influential folk of Vienna. It is close to the Burgtheatre, another classical Viennese building.
Views of the Volksgarden Vienna
Lyn’s ankle was much better so we elected to walk from our hotel, down to the Opera House and through the Volksgarten, one of many large green spaces in the centre of the city. The garden was an lovely oasis of peace and calm in the morning sunshine the hedges around the edge keeping most of the city noise at bay. We lingered a while before heading for coffee.
Cafe Landsmann – following in the footsteps of Sigmund Freud!
Today’s tour took us out of the city centre and the change in architecture as we left the city centre was stark. Gone were the beautiful classical buildings, to be replaced by grim utilitarian concrete blocks of apartments, built after the end of WW1 when the country became a republic, governed by the Socialists and communists. There was an urgent housing crisis and these blocks were constructed to try and solve this problem. One building in particular stood out. It was a three storey building which must have been around 1km long. According to the electronic guide on the bus, this building was constructed under the guidance of Karl Marx whose theories were being put into practice, social housing on a massive scale to provide housing for low paid workers with cheap rent, child care and welfare for free. Interestingly these blocks and most of the apartments in Vienna is still owned by the city council and rents are around one eighth of an individual’s salary.
Top left: Vineyard; Top right: Church on the hill at Kahlenberg; Bottom: Two views of Vienna from the hilltop.
As we left the city boundary behind we began to climb up through vineyards towards the village of Grinzing and on to the viewpoint of Kahlenburg. This viewpoint, high above the city provided a wonderful view back down to the city. The weather was warm and sunny but a thin haze partially obscured the view.
Left: Lyn in Hero’s Square; Centre: Parliament Offices; Right: The view from Hero’s Square to Maria-Threse-Platz
Vienna is rich in classical architecture and opulence within the city centre. Its wide boulevards and gardens, especially around the Hoffburg complex are beautiful, neat and well laid out. Close to our hotel in Fleischmarkt the streets were narrow with many fascinating alleyways. This was what I presume was old Vienna.
Old Vienna, with narrow streets and Alleyways
As a city Vienna did not endear itself to us as other cities have done. There is no single reason for this. Yes there is much history and classical architecture but it all became a bit too much in the end, as one building blurred into another with little distinction, maybe classical overload, who knows? I am pleased we stayed on after our cycle trip as it was one of the cities on my list of places to visit. Having been there would we go back? I am not sure, there are so many others to see, but Lyn is definite NO!
I will leave this blog with something a little different. On our return flight home, Lyn had a bit of an “airborne wobble” but the BA cabin crew looked after her so well. Once back on the stand at Heathrow, she was invited to the Flight deck to meet the captain and sit in the First officer’s seat.
BA’s latest recruit? Lyn takes over the First Officers duties.