Sunday, January 29, 2017

Visiting Vienna

Vienna was once one of the most powerful capitals in Europe. Home to the Hapsburg Empire and the Destination of Classical Musicians, Vienna's architecture boasts of the grandeur that once existed.

Our first destination was the State Opera House, where classical music greats- Motzart, Hayden, and Wagner. My previous 3rd grade co-worker loved these classial musicians and introduced me to some children's books about the biographies of those phenomenal artists. While we didn't go in the building was HUGE!

And they had a pink bunny outside, which just kind of made me laugh.

Not far from the opera house, was the residence of the opera's greatest patrons- the Hofburg Palace, home of the Habsburg dynasty. We first entered through the Palace Gardens.

The Greenhouse was huge! Unfortunately, it wasn't open for tourists to poke around in.

On the palace grounds they had a beautiful memorial for the last Habsburg emperor- Josef II and Wolfgang Armadeus Motzart. Did you know that Motzart actually tutored Leopold II? Part of the garden was dedicated to him with his statue.

We then made our way in towards one of the Hofburg palace entrances.

Not the main entrance, but still extremely elegant. Which comes as no surprise considering this was the home of the monarchs who ruled over Austria, Bohemia (Czech Republic... remember Prague?), Monrovia (Slovakia), Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. The inner courtyard had a large clock and sundial, as well as a beautiful fountain. Surrounding this area were the royal apartments occupied by the Emperors and Empresses of this Dynasty- which include Marie Theresa and her daughter Marie Antonette.

Did you know Emperor Joseph related to the trials of Hercules? As a tribute to the various tasks and labors that Hercules had to complete, he had those 11 labors set in sculpture around the palace. Apparently ruling an empire is a lot like a demi-god facing legendary monsters and the devices of jealous gods and goddesses. I'm not an emperor or empress so I'll take his word for it.

The main entrance was absolutely stunning. It would definitely impress most royals to pull up into a horse drawn carriage and survey the architecture and sculptures surrounding the palace. I have no doubt the inside was every bit as luxurious as the outside.

Immediately before the main entrance to the palace lay the ancient ruins of Roman roads. Beside the roads was a medieval fort built centuries ago but recovered recently.

After visiting the home of the royals, we figured we might as well stop by and visit the royal emperors and empresses themselves. Kraisergruft is the imperial crypt which houses the entire line of the Habsurg family (a few exceptions of course- no one wanted to visit France during a revolution to bring back Marie Antoinette's body or even her head). However, we only saw part of them as their bodies were here, but their hearts were removed and placed in the Augustinian Church and their entrails (intestines, stomachs, etc...) in the catacombs in St. Stephens Cathedral.

The amount of detail that went into some of the tombs or sarcophagus' of these royals was unbelievable. They lay dead in the same luxury they were used to in life.

Here is the tomb of Marie Theresa and her husband Franz I. It shows them laying in bed Etruscan style. Did you know that long ago people slept sitting up? Apparently it was believed that sleeping laying down would cause death via suffocation. True story.

Look at the detail of these tombs. When I even think about the cost of buy a coffin from a local mortuary, I choke at the prices. I can't imagine the costs of these.

During our time in Austria, we also learned that today (December 26) is a holiday- St. Stephen's Day. While we didn't really notice any sort of traditions or parades taking place, we did visit St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. The three towers reach about 450 feet high and it was built between 1300-1450.

It was under renovation, but I love the colorful roof tiles. Interestingly enough there is still a cannon ball still on the roof from when the Ottoman Turks tried to bomb the church. You cannot see in the pictures, you would have had to climb the tower in order to see it (something we did not do- I'm not a huge fan of staircases- which Europe has plenty of).

Inside when you enter the nave is longer than a football field and is nine stories tall.

Remember when I mentioned that we saw the bodies of the Habsurg family in Kaisergruft, well their innards of 72 of them are found in the crypt.

Also as I've been talking about Motzart recently, there were few places in Vienna that he didn't spend some time at (Kaisergruft perhaps being the exception). Motzart actually got married at St. Stephen's Cathedral in this small chapel.

After visiting these sights and walking around old town Vienna, we stopped by some street vendors for food. Seems like some of the best food we've had in Europe, was things we found from off the side of the street.

Vienna had the same beautiful architecture we found in Prague, but the streets were considerably quieter. I'm not sure if it was because people were spending their St. Stephen's holiday with their families at home or if Vienna is just a quieter city or if perhaps Prague was just louder because of the Christmas season. Either way, both cities were charming and enchanting.

Chauffeur’s Corner (Brian)
So as your read Stacey’s account, you probably thought that that was a nice day spent in Vienna…well it was more like 3 hours. We woke up in Prague around 5am and left before 6am, arrived in Vienna around 10am and were on the road to Salzburg by around 1-2pm. All in all, it was a very abbreviated tour of Vienna, but we definitely hit the critical mass.

I was lucky enough to find a parking garage near the main sites (good research), which made it easy for us to see everything on foot. We basically stumbled upon the State Opera House, which was pretty incredible from the outside. I am not an Opera fan, so there was no desire to wait around for an evening show (tons of people hawking tickets though).

Again I had no clue about the Habsburg dynasty, so Stacey filled in all the relevant details.

Oh, and one critical detail about Europe – there are public restrooms, but they cost. And worse, you have to have exact change – queue Stacey getting change at a restaurant for her chauffeur.

As Stacey noted, we discovered the Roman ruins…and that is rather apt, as there were no real signs and we only noticed them when we stopped to figure out which direction to head to St. Stephen’s. They were really cool though, especially with the many layers of building. The crypt was very interesting, especially with how ornate everything was and it continued to help tie the history together. However, the highlight of Vienna for me was St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I could probably do without all the spires, but the sheet height of the ceiling was incredible.

Vienna was definitely quieter and it could be nice to return, but I was not as drawn to it as Prague.

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