Category Archives: Austria

Vienna Wrap Up

One of the highlights of any visit to Vienna is Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs.  The Baroque exterior of the palace dates to the late 1600’s, but the interior was redecorated in the mid 1700’s by Maria Theresa in Rococo style.The palace is huge with 1441 rooms of which tourists get to see 40.  The palace is said to be the only one in Europe that can rival Versailles.  It may rival it, but in my view it does not top it.  Pictures were not allowed inside.The main gardens at the rear of the palace.The gardens, Neptune fountain, and the Glorietta on top of the hill.The palmhouse or green house was surrounded with topiary.

Vienna is a center of classical music and dance in Europe.  Each year Vienna hosts a month long dance festival.  Most of the dances seem to be pretty far out.  We went to see a South African version of the ballet Giselle.  The theater was nice but nothing extraordinary.  The storyline is similar to the classic ballet, but the music was very modern and I’m sure the dancing was quite different.  Having said that, the production was very professional and the dancers were very talented.  I think I enjoyed it more than Susan who would prefer a more traditional version.

Deserts are very popular in Vienna.  It is the home of the sachertorte, two layers of chocolate cake with apricot jam in between and covered with chocolate icing.  I tried it twice.  The first time I was disappointed as the cake was dry.  The second time I added ice cream and the cake was moister.  Yumm!  Apple strudel is very popular as well.  I had mine with vanilla sauce and thought it was excellent.  But the thing you can’t help but notice is the large number of ice cream shops.  There are three in two blocks near our apartment.  Take out cones and cups are popular, but most have a sit down area where you can get a wide assortment of sundays.  These places are packed in the afternoons and evenings.  I don’t know how well they do in the winter, but they look like gold mines in the summer.

Vienna has one of the premiere opera houses in the world.  It is closed for shows in July and August, but they perform one show a day the remainder of the year or 300 shows per year.Since microphones are not allowed, the singers have to rest their voices for three days after each show.  This means that a different show is performed every day.  They have a repertoire of over fifty operas and do eight premieres in a typical year.  The sets have to be stored off site, so every morning a fleet of trucks arrives to deliver the sets for today’s show.  If that wasn’t difficult enough, there is usually a rehearsal for one opera in the morning with its set and then they have to change sets for the opera being performed that evening.The opera was built by Emperor Franz Joseph so the exterior and front of the building are quite elaborate.  However, the hall was destroyed by a bomb in WW II and was rebuilt in a more modern and simple style.  It holds 2300 people including over 500 standing room spots.  The occupancy rate last year was over 99%!  Standing room tickets cost between 3€ and 4€.  The most expensive seat is 270€.The stage is the largest stage in Europe.  And do you have any idea of what the longest ovation would be.  It was 1 hour and 20 minutes for Placido Domingo.  I am pretty sure I am not capable of applauding anything that long.

Looking back on our six weeks in Europe, we both agree that our favorite part was the Viking cruise.  Great food, being waited on hand and foot, and lots of interesting sites – what’s not to like.  Our second favorite would be our time in Provence mostly because of the beauty of the region.  In third place is Vienna.  It is a beautiful city with lots to do, but the heat detracted from the experience.  That leaves the Canal du Midi in last place, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t like it.  The heat again was a problem and the lack of comfort on the boat after being on Viking was quite noticeable.  It was still a great experience.

So what is next?  Many of you know, but it will be a surprise to others.  It is a really good thing that we liked our Viking cruise, as we are leaving in mid December for almost five months on a Viking world cruise from Miami to London.  The 141 day cruise will visit 5 continents, 35 countries, and 64 ports including 3 nights in Cuba and two nights in a number of ports.  There will also be a lot of sea days.  This will be the first world cruise for Viking and they seen to be trying hard to make it successful.  I would ask you to join us, but it has been sold out for several months now.

As always, thank you for joining us on our travels and a special big thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment.  We hope you will join us for what should be the adventure of a lifetime on our world cruise.

Vienna Central Cemetery 

Vienna Central Cemetery is the main cemetery in Vienna; and at 620 acres with 330,000 grave sites, it is the second largest cemetery in Europe.  With over 3,000,000 people buried there, the number of people buried there well exceeds the living population of Vienna today.  The decision to build the cemetery came in 1863 when city leaders thought the Austrian Hungarian empire would grow forever and the present cemetery system would be insufficient.  Consequently, they chose a huge area of flat land well outside the city center to build a cemetery that would take a long time to fill.  

The cemetery opened on All Saints Day in 1874 to some controversy.  It was an interdenominational cemetery with a Jewish section causing much criticism from the Catholic Church.  For most of its history it has had a Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, and Russian Orthodox section as well as the Catholic section.  It was so far out of town in the beginning that people did not want to go there.  This led to the creation of Ehrengräber or honorary graves to make the cemetery something of a tourist attraction.  Consequently, most of the famous Austrian composers, scientists, writers, etc. as well as all the Austrian presidents are buried here.

The cemetery is served by tram line 71 from the city center.  It is about a 30 minute ride from the city center.  This has led to the expression “he took the 71” to mean that the person died.Susan is at the grave site of her favorite composer, Beethoven.  He seemed to be everyone’s favorite as many of the flowers are in freestanding pots or are cut flowers that were left there.A memorial to Mozart is in the center (He is buried in a nearby cemetery), Beethoven is buried on the left and Franz Schubert is buried on the right.  Brahms and Strauss are buried nearby.lui

We met a math PhD student from the University of Maryland who wanted his picture taken in front of the grave of Ludwig Boltzmann.  We asked him why Boltzmann was famous.  He explained that Boltzmann developed statistical mechanics which explains and predicts the properties of atoms.  His formula for entropy is at the top of the memorial.  I’m pretty sure that no one else really cares about that, but it is interesting how you learn things.

The more elaborate graves tended to be next to the main road.  This one was particularly touching.There is a large church in the area of the cemetery we visited.  Up to 25 Burials a day take place in this cemetery.  There seemed to be several just in the small area we were visiting today.  After paying our respects to Beethoven and Boltzmann, I am happy to report we took the 71 safely back to the city center where we had some more street food before looking at Hapsburg bling at the Treasury.A coronation robe.  Because they ruled many different empires, they would have a ceremony in each empire and have a different coronation robe for each one.The crown of the Holy Roman Emperor made of gold, pearls, and precious stones.  It was probably made for Otto I (c. 960).  And we think things are old in Charleston!A baptismal plate and urn.An alter cover.  The detail below shows what it is possible to achieve with needle and thread.  This was made in about 1450.Notice the detail achieved on the faces and clothing.  We have two more days of exploring Vienna before heading home on Sunday.


Tuesday we took a Viator day trip to the Benedictine abbey of Melk.  We took a bus from Vienna to the Danube River valley where we transferred to a boat for the 1.5 hour cruise to Melk.  We then toured the abbey before returning to Vienna by bus.The river cruise had castle ruins on the hills,castles by the river,villages with vineyards in the background,and villages without any vineyards around.  In short, it was a beautiful trip!

The Melk Abbey was founded in 1089 when a member of Austrian nobility gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks.  They turned it into a monastic school which became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection.  The present Baroque abbey was built between  1702 and 1736.  It has a famous library of about 100,000 books and a school with 900 students.  There are only 30 monks residing in the abbey and only two of them teach at the school.The abbey gardens.  The building is used for musical concerts.This is the back of the abbey.The main courtyard of the abbey.

Unfortunately, the front of the building was undergoing maintenance, but you get the idea of how it looks.The abbey sits on a hill above the town of Melk.Pictures were not allowed inside the abbey, so I downloaded the following pictures courtesy of Google.

The main alter of the church.

One of about ten rooms that make up the library, which is still used by researchers.  By the way, the blue Danube is in no way blue and according to our guide, it never was.

Jewish Day in Vienna 

After visiting numerous churches this trip, we spent today touring the oldest surviving synagogue in Vienna and visiting both buildings of the Jewish Museum.  We still had time for a couple of churches.What would you guess is in this row of buildings?  The two policeman standing outside are a big clue.  It is the Stadtempel, the only synagogue in Vienna not destroyed in WW II.  It was built in 1824 – 1826 under the reign of Emperor Joseph II, who had declared that only Catholic Churches could face the street.  Consequently, the synagogue was hidden behind houses with nothing visible on the street showing it is there.  Ironically, this helped save the temple as it could not be burned without burning all the other buildings attached to it. It is now the primary temple in Vienna.  Since Vienna is a music city, the cantors of this synagogue were very talented.  One prominent cantor here was friends with Franz Liszt and Gustav Mahler, who composed music for him to use in services.  Our tour guide spoke at length about the rise of antisemitism in Europe.  She believed that this problem was less in Vienna than other large European cities.t

The doors to the arc where the Torah is kept.

Another reason the Stadtempel was the only one of 94 Jewish temples and prayer houses in Vienna to survive WW II, was that it was across a narrow street from the oldest church in Vienna so it would be hard to burn the synagogue without also burning the church.The Holocaust memorial in Vienna represents 6500 books to tell the story of the 65.000 Viennese Jews killed in the Holocaust.I did enjoy some currywurst between museums.  You will note that I am eating it properly – a bite of sausage followed by a bite of bread.  According to our guide, only an American would eat them together in one bite.

We have seen several interesting clocks.

This clock on the Hofburg Palace is three clocks in one: a conventional clock, a sundial below the clock, and a moon phase clock (the small blue and gold ball above the clock).  We checked the moon phase clock that night and it is accurate.  In case you are wondering, the clock shows 12:15 because it is on daylight savings time and the sundial is an hour behind because it is on standard time.I love this clock.  It is on a bridge between two buildings.  Historical figures move acros the face with a pointer showing the hour on their heads.  The pointer points to the minutes. Thus the time above is 11:15.

A nearby sign identifies the historical figures on the clock.

And for dinner it was pork schnitzel at one of the oldest schnitzel restaurants in Vienna.  Yes, I ate the whole thing!  I think Susan was the only customer who didn’t have schnitzel.  She went for liver and onions.  They were both good, but for me the schnitzel was a clear winner.

Sights in Vienna

The primary landmark in Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral located at the center of the Ringstrasse.  Its tall spire is visible from our apartment window.

Unfortunately, they are rebricking the plaza around the cathedral, so there is no such thing as a good picture now.  You can also sense that power washing is a never ending activity as parts of the exterior are clean and other parts need cleaning.The church has a Gothic pulpit carved from three blocks of sandstone in about 1500.The Naschmarkt was an interesting place to eat lunch.  It is located on the very broad median of a street stretching for about a mile outside of the Ringstrasse.  There are two sides with one being primarily restaurants and the other primarily food stands.  A large number of the stands were middle eastern featuring things like falafel, shawarma, and hummus.  The curry hummus looked particularly good to me.The market ended with a flea market.  The street had architecturally interesting buildings on both sides.Pawleys Island does not have a Chanel store; but if they did, I am pretty sure it wouldn’t look like this.  The short route from our apartment to the Hofburg Palace includes several blocks of very high end shops.  We have walked those blocks many times with no damage to the credit card so far.The main entrance to Hofburg Palace.  It was very quiet at night but is always crowded during the day.There is a very large plaza known as the Museum Quarter with about ten museums on it.There was a stage in the Museum Quarter where people were learning how to be whirling dervishes.  This might be part of the month long dance festival.  We are going to see Giselle on Thursday.Wherever you are likely to find tourists, you will find people selling tickets to classical music concerts.  The Opera and Philharmonic are on summer break, so only the touristy music is available.  This concert was held in a hall in Hofburg Palace.  These shows typically include a small orchestra, a tenor, a soprano, and two ballet dancers.  The conductor was a real showman and worked with the drummer to include humor in the show.  When you hear the Blue Danube Waltz, you know the program is about over.  The show was enjoyable, but they all seem about the same except for the venue.

Sisi and Street Dancing

Friday we toured the Hofburg Palace in the afternoon and spent the evening at the Vienna Film Festival.  Yesterday was the last day forecast to be in the 90’s, so there is hope on the temperature front.The Hofburg Palace goes on forever, and this is a picture of about half of one of the buildings.  The tour included the royal silver collection, which was room after room of things you would put on a dinner table.  Originally meals were eaten on gold or silver plates except for deserts which were served on porcelain.Some examples from the silver collection.This shows the royal napkin fold with pockets for two rolls.  This fold is a closely guarded secret and today only two people know how to do it.

The tour also included a museum about the life of Empress Elizabeth (called Sisi since childhood), the wife of Franz Joseph.  The mothers of Franz and Sisi were sisters who agreed to arrange a marriage between Franz and Sisi’s sister.  However, when Franz saw Sisi, he fell madly in love with her and married her when she was 16.  She was one of the most beautiful women of that time and was noted for ankle length hair which required two hours of grooming each day and for her 20 inch waist.  By the time she reached 50 and had four children, her waist had ballooned to 21 inches.  She liked to eat, but was a fanatic for exercise.  She also had some good maids to tighten that corset.  She was not enthralled with life in the Vienna court, and travelled extensively.  She was devastated by the death of her son and his wife.  According to our free guide, this was the beginning of fake news.  The son committed suicide and his wife was shot and killed the same day.  Since the Catholic Church condemned suicide, the papers reported the next morning that the son shot himself accidently while cleaning his gun and the same bullet killed his wife.  Problem solved.

The final part of the tour was the royal apartments, but no pictures allowed.Part of the royal gardens.

The annual Film Festival is on the front yard of city hall and features a different free movie each night from mid June to the end of August.  Most of the movies are of musical performances with most being classical performances or dances.There were about twenty food trucks set up on the grounds with lots of tables and chairs.  The meals were served on real plates, glasses, and silverware with people to clean the tables.We had  Vietnamese food.  There was also Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and many other options to choose from.The screen and city hall at sundown.  This gives you an idea of the size of the screen.This was the program we saw.  The dancing in the movie was all street dancing and the music was a mix of traditional Swan Lake and music you would associate with street dancing.  When they were dancing to Tchaikovsky, it was pretty cool.  We didn’t care that much for the non Tchaikovsky music.  When we left at 10 PM, the food area was still packed and it was standing room only for the movie.  It was a unique, fun experience!

Home of a Hero

According to our tour guide, Austrians have lost 80% of the wars they fought and consequently have only two heros.  One was Prince Eugene of Savoy, who defeated the Ottoman Turks in 1697 at the battle of Zenta.  He built a summer home outside Vienna in the early 1700’s consisting of two Baroque palaces and a stable surrounded by Baroque gardens.  They are known collectively as Belvedere Palace, which is now primarily an art museum.  Since it was a hot day – Have I mentioned previously that it is hot here? – we decided to master the tram system.  What was once outside of Vienna is now just outside the ringstrasse.  We got there with no problem and got home with only a little glitch of taking the tram in the wrong direction.  To combat the heat, we have learned to always carry a bottle of water with us.  Vienna has refill stations all over town so you can always refill with cool, potable water.The upper palace.The gardens looked much better from above than they did up close.  No one tends gardens and parks as well as the French.  The lower palace is at the end of the gardens.The upper palace and fountain.

The marble hall was the fanciest room in the palace.But this is the reason most people visit Belvedere Palace – Austrian painter Gustav Klimpt’s most famous work, The Kiss.  Apparently there was a problem with people taking selfies in front of the original painting.  A security guard was stationed at the painting and direct pictures were allowed.  Adjacent to the original was a small room with a full size copy of the painting dedicated to those who need a selfie with every famous painting.  It appeared that no self respecting selfie taker would use a copy, as no selfies were being taken there.  You will also notice that the selfie sign is in English with no German.  What does that say about selfie takers.

One palace down.  Two more to go.

Life in Vienna

Vienna is a city of large buildings in various architectural styles that prides itself as a center of music and the arts.  Most of the attractions are in an area surrounded by a circular road called the Ringstrasse.  Our apartment is conveniently located one block inside the Ringstasse with the airport bus stop outside our front door, a tram stop one block away, and a metro stop three blocks away.  We can walk to anywhere inside the ring in about thirty minutes.  We could probably walk there faster, but it has been really hot and humid since we arrived so quite frankly – we are dragging!  Today the temperature peaked at 99 F.  Our apartment has a portable air conditioner in the bedroom, so we can keep that room comfortable.  The living/dining area is bearable with a fan.  We tried riding the tram yesterday; but it wasn’t air conditioned, so it was even hotter than walking.

The area around us is filled with sidewalk cafes, bars, and gelato stands.  It seems half the people on the street are eating gelato at any time of the day.  Most of these restaurants are not air conditioned, so it is more comfortable eating outside.  I read somewhere that Vienna has a higher percentage of smokers than any other European city.  Based on these sidewalk cafes, that would seem to be true.  It is not unusual to see someone smoking at every table.

We tried our first free guided tour the other day.  We have talked to people who recommend them, so we decided to give it a try.  The guide worked for tips and made it clear from the beginning that he expected to be tipped.  Our guide was very good and filled the 2.5 hour tour with history and interesting anecdotes.Most of the buildings in town were built in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.  The architects would base the architectural style of the building on its purpose.  For instance, the design of the opera house above was based on classical Italian design since Italy was known for its music.  In the same way, the parliament building was based on classic Greek design since democracy had its beginnings in Athens.  As a result, most buildings are much newer than their architectural style would indicate.Austria is one of four neutral countries in the European Union.  Their constitution prohibits joining any military alliance.  This square in the center of the city is The Monument Against War and Fascism.When Hitler controlled Austria, the Jews were forced to clean the streets with a scrub brush as shown here in The Monument.  The barbed wire was not part of the original design, but was added when people kept mistaking this for a bench to sit on.  Problem solved!Vienna is filled with parks as well as impressive buildings.  This is part of the Hofburg Palace. The palace consists of numerous buildings and we have not toured it yet.  We are soldiering on in the heat with the promise of cooler weather next week.