(Vienna, Kartnerstrasse, one of the main pedestrian malls)
This blog is a continuation of a discussion on visiting Vienna. If you missed it, you can read part 1 here.
(St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna)
Other sights of interest within the City include:
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is at the epicenter of the Old City. This Gothic church — with eye-catching yellow, green and blue roof tiles — dates to the 12th century and suffered severe damage in WWII, with roof collapse and fire in both towers. It was rebuilt and restored by an effort of the entire country and is now Austria’s National Church. You can enter the church for free but must pay a small admission to explore the entire cathedral — well worth it in our opinion. Enjoy the beautiful stained glass, arches, and the wonderfully carved stone pulpit, dating to 1447. See the font in which Mozart’s children were baptized and look around the church in which he received a pauper’s funeral. Explore either the top of the North Bell Tower (Elevator available) or South Tower (stairs only). Visit the catacombs which has the preserved viscera of the Hapsburg rulers — their bodies are kept at the Kaisergruft and hearts in the Augustinerkirche (St. Augustine Church). The catacombs also contain the tombs of bishops and thousands of bones representing the earthly remains of plague victims who wished to be buried on this sacred ground. As I walked away from this beautiful historic church I wondered if in a century or so a mosque might stand in its place.
(Gardens, Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna)
Schonbrunn Palace was the summer palace of the Hapsburgs — a sprawling 1441 room complex built from 1696-1712, of which you can tour about 40 rooms today (Royal Apartments), including Maria Theresa’s, Franz Josef’s and Sisi’s quarters. The exterior is Baroque, while the interior is Rococo. It was built with the intent to surpass Versailles. Mozart performed for Maria Theresa at age 6 in the Hall of Mirrors. A visit to Schonbrunn will take about a half of a day, depending on whether or not you wish to visit their zoo and how long you want to explore the massive gardens which include a maze, large rose garden, several fountains, shaded paths. The Palace is said to have a terrific coach museum which we did not have time to visit. Schonbrunn was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1996.
(Gardens, Belvedere Palace, Vienna)
Belvedere Palace was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy, a French general hired by the Hapsburg family who orchestrated the defeat o the Ottoman Turks. For his stunning military victories he was paid generously, money he used to buy the land and build the two magnificent structures that comprise Belvedere Palace. These are among the most beautiful 18th century Baroque buildings anywhere. The gardens are spacious, with unique sphinxes, and the grounds provide a wonderful view of Vienna.
(Vienna Opera House)
The Opera (Staatsoper), a massive building which is said to be one of the finest Opera houses in the world. The building is just over a century old. When it opened the Viennese so criticized its appearance it drove one of its two architects to commit suicide. It was also extensively damaged by bombs in WWII, but was rebuilt and is now one of Vienna’s favorite places to spend an evening. Most performances are sold out and tickets (which cost up to 270 Euro each) must be purchased well in advance. Fortunately in the summer a large screen projection shows the live performances (free) to anyone wanting to see it on the street. If you’re interested in seeing the interior of the Opera house you can take tours which last about an hour. We did and while it was elegant, it should not be at the top of your priority list. There is also a forgettable Museum as part of the Opera. Outside dozens of touts dressed in what look like leftover costumes from the movie Amadeus will try to sell you tickets to a Mozart Concert (which is NOT performed at the Opera); good luck trying to avoid them.
Vienna’s old center is worth spending some time walking around in. Stroll up Kartner Strasse and the Graben Pedestrian zone. Visit the unusual Monument against War and Fascism (odd arrangement of 4 statues), Albertina Museum (former home of Maria Christina, Maria Teresa’s favorite daughter and the only one who was allowed to marry for love), or one of the many museums in the Museum Quarter. There are dozens of museums in Vienna and even most locals haven’t seen them all. View food displays and vendors at the Naschmarkt (food market) and eat lunch at one of the many small eateries here. If you’re adventuresome head to the outskirts of the city for some hiking in the Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) or wine tasting at nearby vineyards.
At dusk on a nice day head to the Prater amusement park. The Prater has a gigantic ferris wheel, originally built in 1896 but reconstructed after allied bombings in 1945. You might remember this ferris wheel from the British film The Third Man. This is a good place for a panoramic view of Vienna at night. Or enjoy a walk or cruise along the Danube river.
(Sacher Cafe, Vienna)
It would not do the city justice without spending a little time talking about some of the excellent food we enjoyed here. We did not have a single bad dining experience; in fact, our meals were all excellent. Vienna has a wonderful coffeehouse scene where locals like to go for a cup of coffee and a pastry such as apple strudel or some cake (torte). All the pastry we tried was wonderfully tasty and quite varied. Chocolate is popular and whipped cream and nuts are liberally used. Sachertorte, a rich (though somewhat dry) chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam was developed in the Hotel Sacher, adjoining the Opera house. Demel Cafe is another excellent place to sample pastries.
(Wonderful cakes at Demel Cafe, Vienna)
Dinner menus often feature weinerschnitzel — a breaded veal (now more often pork) cutlet fried to a golden crispness. Another Viennese meat specialty is boiled beef, or tafelspitz, which was Emperor Franz Josef’s favorite meal. Goulashes are popular and a large variety of ethnic foods are available. Your wallet will be significantly thinner but your waistline will not after you spend some time in Vienna.
(enjoying lunch at the Naschmarket, Vienna)
For an extended high resolution slide show of Vienna, please go to this link. The slide show is at the bottom of the post. Click on the right sided icon of the slideshow's toolbar for full screen enlargements.