Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Wine and the Waltz and the Danube

It is impossible to see Vienna in a day, much less four hours.  We had an hour's tour of the major sights and then got off for an hour's walk through old town to St. Stephen's cathedral, where we were given an hour free time before heading back to the bus again.  Vienna deserves more.

We started at breakfast, where Walt was pleased to get Vienna sausages for breakfast while docked in Vienna.

We boarded the bus with our tour guide, Mario (a good old Austrian name), who pointed out the first landmark, right across from our ship, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, or the "Jubilee Church," constructed to commemorate the golden jubilee of Emperor Franz-Joseph in 1898.  It now on the "Mexikoplatz," renamed in 1959 to recognize Mexico as the only country in the world which was vocally opposed to the annexation of Austria by Germany.

The first hour of our tour was on the bus, where everything seemed to be on the wrong side or behind a tree, or pass by too quickly to really savor it.  I was able to take a quick shot of the historic ferris wheel at Prater amusement park.

Like the St. Francis of Assisi Church, this was also built for the jubilee of Franz-Joseph.  It was one of the first wheels ever built and its cars were made of wood. In 1920 it was the world's tallest ferris wheel, a title it retained for 65 years.  It was held in such regard by the Austrians that it was one of the first structures to be rebuilt after its destruction in WWII.  Our guide says that some people get married on the ferris wheel and you can even book it for a special dinner, but it will take a very long time because you get your starter course and then you have to wait for the wheel to return to the bottom before you get each subsequent course.  It could take 4 hrs for a dinner.

We finally reached the point where our walking tour would begin. We walked past a lot of historic buildings, which tend to blur together, but I like to remember the offbeat ones, like this souvenir shop.

Considering that Mozart felt himself a failure when he died and was buried in a pauper's grave, without a marker, he would be amazed to see an entire store, like this, focused on him!

I don't think this is a lesbian meeting hall, but wouldn't it make a great doorway if it were?

I also loved the queue of horse-drawn carriages in front of St. Stephen's cathedral.  They didn't have the horseshoes I saw in Prague, but every single one of those horses had a poop bag attached to his or her backside.

Speaking of horses, I was disappointed when I checked several months ago to learn that the famous Lipizzan horses would not be in Vienna when we were there.  Our guide says they get three months vacation each year, where they are sent out to pasture to just play.  But we did see where we could have seen them if they had been in town.

Our walking tour ended at St. Stephen's Cathedral, which stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first being a parish church built in 1147.  A fire destroyed most of the original building in 1258 and a new, larger church was dedicated in 1263. A new church, ordered by Albert I in  1304 was consecrated in 1340.  It suffered severe damage from fires of nearby stores during WW II but was restored and reopened in 1952. 

Today, it is undergoing cleaning or something that requires scaffolding but they have done something really clever.  The scaffolding is hidden by some sort of cloth on which is painted what will eventually be seen when the scaffolding is removed.  (I've outlined the section of the building where cleaning is going on).  We saw this on the castle grounds in Budapest the other day too.

We've been to so many places (Notre Dame in Paris and Westminster Abby, for two) where you can't see the building you came to see because of scaffolding.  Ned wrote a whole song about it ("Don't go to London, it's under construction") that was a Lawsuit staple for many years.  But this new method of fixing historic buildings lets people have their cake and eat it too!

I was also taken by this statue, which was erected to commemorate all the people who died in the plague in the middle 1600s.  There is one spot down at the bottom, where King Leopold is trying to give up his crown if only it would bring an end to the plague.  Of course he was fleeing town at the time to escape the plague himself.

This being the popular "Old Town," where all the tourists are, the place is crawling with people in period garb.  I actually wasn't taking a picture of this guy, but of something behind him and when I later looked at the photo realized that he was posing for me.

They are all trying to sell you tickets to a concert or a tour.  Some, like this guy, are quite spiffy, but some look thrown together, perhaps with tennis shoes instead of period shoes.

I saw one woman dressed in what might have been a nice period costume if it were clean (she would have made a good prostitute in a production of Les Miserables) but the whole look was ruined by the cigarette which dangled out of her mouth and which she occasionally took out to tap off the ash.  Definitely ruined the look she was going for!

A priest, or someone dressed as one (who can tell in this place) was pedaling medals.  I'm not sure what the cause was for because he didn't speak English...and you can't even trust the costumed clergy in this place! 

We had an hour's free time and went in to St. Stephen's, which is, of course, quite impressive.

But I did like the addition, all over the church, of electronic information booths.  Somehow clashed with the otherwise gothic look!

Afterwards, we took our newly acquired knowledge of cafe etiquette and found ourselves a cafe where we could watch the passing parade while enjoying a coffee and a sachertorte.

Char and I also made a stop in a gift shop.  I know Peggy doesn't read these entries any more, but on the off chance she stumbles on this one, I wanted to show her the hat I found.

We were back on the boat in time for lunch.  In the afternoon, Char, Mike and Walt toured Schoenbrun Palace.  Having read up on it, I knew this was not a good idea for me...I've been keeping up, not crying about my plight, and actually enjoying myself.  I knew that two long walking tours in a day might change that status.  One look at Char's face on their return made me realize I'd made the right decision!

I'm going to skip the dinner photo collage but it will eventually be on Flickr when we get home.  I wanted to talk about our optional event this evening.  We went to Palais Ausberg, a baroque palace built between 1706-1710. It was the winter residence of Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen and a musical school was started there.  In 1759 Gluck was the concertmaster here.  It was here that 6 year old Mozart lept into the lap of the Empress Maria Theresia.  Later he and other famous composers (like Haydn) premiered some of their works.  (It was also used as one of the shooting locations for the filmThe Third Man)

Currently it is a place for small concerts to be held...and that was why we were there.  What great fun! The Vienna Residence Orchestra performed a program by Mozart and by Strauss, with dancers and singers.

No photos allowed, of course, so I can't show you the concert, nor would I have wanted to take pictures--except once.  The conductor was a real crowd pleaser and I guess there is one place where he asks for audience involvement, coaxing someone in the audience to come to the stage to play the triangle during one number.  The man we had dinner with the other night, Dirk, the retired doctor, eagerly volunteered.  He hobbled to the stage on his two canes, climbed up to sit on the stage.  The conductor and his Stradivarius sat beside him and they played together to the great delight of the audience.  I don't think the conductor ever expected such a fun, enthusiastic (and even talented) participant.  How I would have loved to film that moment, though I did get Dirk and his wife Sunny after the show was over, still basking in the glow of the cheers from the crowd.

 Tomorrow we will be sailing all morning through the beautiful Wachau valley, docking in the small town of Melk around lunchtime.  I have heard that the abbey chapel is spectacular.

1 comment:

Mary Z said...

Wow! Our apartment in Vienna was about 2 blocks from St. Stephen's square. And we did love our sitting and having coffee and pastries for lunch.