Hi all, here is the overdue Vienna update.
My time in Vienna was a return to full-speed tourism. A friend of mine advised me that Vienna was a good city to relax and take it slow, but I did the exact opposite. On my first full day in Vienna I walked over towards the old town and paid a quick visit to the Museum Quarter, an area with lots of smaller museums dedicated to more contemporary things. I then crossed the ring road which goes around the old town. This road used to be where the city walls were, but some time back the walls were taken down and now a wide street with cars and trams circles the old town. In old town I went over to the Vienna Opera House and took a look at the outside. Opera as an art form has been slowly declining over the past 100 years, and the opera house actually has a screen on the outside that sometimes displays live shows, in an effort to generate more interest in opera (and thus more ticket sales). I then moved north through the old town, zigzagging from street to street. Along the way I saw the Monument Against War and Fascism and the church where the Hapsburgs (the family that controlled Austria and much of Europe for a time) are buried. Much of what you see in Vienna is somehow related to the Hapsburgs, as they were central to Austria’s history for a few hundred years. After awhile I came to St Stephen’s Basilica, which is the largest cathedral in Vienna and located in the center of the old town. I climbed up a really long spiral staircase in its south tower for views of the city and then came down and went in. The church interior is divided into sections that you can see for free, and others that you have to pay a small fee to enter. However, because you can see all the pay sections fairly well from the free areas, I just got photos from the free areas before leaving. From the cathedral I went over to Vienna’s Plague Monument, which was built to commemorate the end of a plague epidemic that hit the city in the 1600s. Nearby it is St Peter’s Cathedral, where I found an organ recital in progress. I stuck around for awhile since it was free, but decided to come back the next day when the inside wouldn’t be so crowded and I could get better photos of the interior. Leaving St Peter’s, I went over to the Hofburg Palace, a large palace which was the administrative center for the Austrian Empire and the residence of the Austrian royal family. I got a ticket to view two of the museums there and the imperial apartments, but since I had gotten there only an hour before closing I didn’t finish everything. Thankfully, I was told that I could just come back the next day and see the parts I had missed. To finish the day, I walked over and got photos of the Austrian Parliament, which is just outside the old town. Next to it is a university and just a short ways from the university is another cathedral. The cathedral was under renovation and much of the interior and exterior had scaffolding on it, so I didn’t stay long there. I then called it day and went back to my hostel.
The next day I did more intensive sightseeing. I went back to the Hofburg Palace and finished up there. No photos allowed in the imperial apartments unfortunately. After finishing the palace I went back to St Peter’s Cathedral and got the photos I had intended to get the day before. With that done, I got on the U-Bahn (Vienna’s subway) and went out to the Schonbrunn Palace, which is just outside the main part of Vienna. The Schonbrunn is Austria’s version of Versailles, and served as the summer residence of the royal family. Although a bit smaller than Versailles, the Schonbrunn probably is the only other palace I’ve seen in Europe that comes close to matching Versailles’ grandeur. Like Versailles, the inside is packed full of artwork and fine furniture. The Schonbrunn is also where JFK met Khrushchev in 1961. Austria, being the neutral country in the middle of Europe during the Cold War, worked well for meetings between western and eastern leaders. After finishing the palace, I spent some time in the gardens, which aren’t as big as Versailles’ gardens but are still pretty nice. Since it was a warm day I spent a lot of time in the shade. When I finished covering the gardens I left the palace and returned to Vienna. I paid a short visit back to the Hofburg to check out the palace’s small church and then was walking through town when I saw a long train of cyclists going by on one of the city streets. I’m not sure what it was for, but there were at least a few hundred of them and traffic was stopped for a few minutes. After dinner I went back out for a night walk across the old town. Vienna is ok after dark, but not quite as scenic as Paris, Rome or some other major cities at night. While walking around, I saw a large group of people on roller blades cruising around the streets of Vienna, but they had police escort so it must have been for some sort of city activity. Since there wasn’t too much to see at night, I went back to my hostel and ended the day.
So, that was Vienna. I am typing this update late at night from Prague in the Czech Republic. I leave tomorrow to visit a family I know over in Germany, and since I’m not really doing sightseeing there I might have a chance to add some more blog updates. We’re getting close to the end here, and I will do my best to get the blog caught up with where I am now.