Tag Archives: Vienna

EUROPE 2011: Sightseeing and Viennese Cafés

Votive Church Vienna

Monday dawned gray and rainy on our last day in Prague. Thankfully, our only plans were to board a train for Vienna. At the main station, we used the last of our crowns, the official Czech currency, to buy chocolates before we boarded our train for the four-hour and forty-five-minute trip. We passed the time looking at our vacation photos on our iPads, listening to music, reading, and taking a short nap.

We arrived in Vienna to rain. By the time we made it to the cab stand, a two-block walk from the train station, we both had only two things on our minds: hot showers and dry clothes. We had reservations at the Radisson Blu Style Hotel. I was surprised to see that this Radisson was not reminiscent of some of the ones I had stayed at in the US. The Vienna hotel was contemporary in design and our modern room spacious and well appointed. It was also located in the heart of the cultural district, close to every attraction, and near the famous Café Central.

The Viennese love their afternoon coffee and a pastry, and the city boasts many popular and different coffee houses to choose from. And they are all united by their strict adherence to the basic rule of Viennese café culture: those who wish to quietly read the national or international press, available to all customers, will not be disturbed by a server even after hours of perusing the newspapers. Those in a hurry can stand up to enjoy their gastronomic delights.

After we unpacked and changed, we went for a long walk with no particular destination in mind; we wanted only to get some exercise after sitting for almost five hours on a train. About we’d walked three city blocks from our hotel, the late afternoon sky grew darker and the drizzle became a light rain, so we quickly retraced our steps and arrived at the Radisson just as the light rain turned into a downpour.

We had a glass of wine and shared an appetizer in the lobby of our hotel while waiting for the weather to pass, but the rain showed no signs of easing. So we checked to see if we could reserve a table at Sapori, the award-winning restaurant inside our hotel. Since they were able to accommodate us, even on such short notice, we dined in for our first night in Vienna.


Votive Church, Vienna

The next day the inclement weather had improved enough to sightsee without getting drenched. By now, our trip was winding down and we were as well. Since we had visited Vienna once before and for a longer duration, we planned to pace ourselves during our sightseeing. Or so we both said. Our goal for the day was simple—to walk. And to visit several parks along the way.

We began our day’s self-guided walking tour with the Ring, or Ringstraße, a circular road surrounding the Innere Stadt district. Its architecture is typical of the eclectic, historicist style called Ringstraßenstil of the 1860s to 1890s. Our first destination was the Votive Church. The church was built to thank God for saving Emperor Franz Joseph from a failed assassination attempt; it was a votive offering. What intrigued me was seeing photos of the massive pipe organ and the beautiful rose window behind it. But the church was closed for cleaning and renovations. Despite the scaffolding and canvas tarps that covered a good portion of one side of the church’s exterior, we were able to photograph it. In certain sections, the walls looked almost black in color, until I saw the cleaned areas. The church is built of white sandstone, and with its elegant and distinctive twin spires that appear almost lace-like, it is an impressive neo-Gothic work of art. (The photo of the pipe organ and rose window is courtesy of Bwag/Commons).

Vienna Sigmund Freud Park

From the Votive Church, we crossed to Sigmund Freud Park. In May 2004 a granite table surrounded by ten seats was erected in the park to represent the European Union’s ten new member states.

Retracing our steps, we paused often to snap photos of the town hall, Parliament, and various other government buildings and museums as we headed to the Monument to the Empress Maria Theresa. Maria Theresa was the only Queen regnant of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. She governed from 1740 to 1780. During her reign, she not only ran the country, but also reformed the school system—and raised her sixteen children.

We photographed the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace in the center of Vienna, then wandered toward Burggarten, the private palace garden laid out in an informal English style. With the fall of the Habsburg Empire, the park opened to the public.

Vienna Butterfly House

As the noon hour approached and we drew near Palm House, we stopped for a coffee break. Palm House was built between 1901 and 1907 and was designed by Friedrich Ohmann in the art nouveau style. One section of the iron and glass greenhouse is home to Butterfly House, where you can see hundreds of tropical butterflies and even bats. The other side houses a popular café. After all the walking we had done, we treated ourselves to an espresso and a slice of Sacher torte.

Vienna Albertina Museum

Charged from our caffeine intake, we set our sights on the Albertina Museum. The building sits on an elevated post atop the Augustinian bastion near the Albertina Palace and the Hofburg. The museum has three main collections: architecture, photography, and graphic art. Today, the collection consists of around fifty thousand drawings and one million prints. What I wanted to photograph was the museum’s modern exterior. Next week, one of the main highlights of our trip, and we witness an unexpected delight as we stroll past the Spanish Riding School.

Next week: “Europe 2011: Lipizzaner Stallions in Vienna, Austria.”

Europe and Bellagio

Bellagio

October 1994: Dusk was falling when we left Zermatt, Switzerland, for Italy. By the time we reached our hotel in Bellagio, it was too dark to see anything outdoors. However, I do recall being duly impressed with the interior decor, with its white marble and lavender and purple accents. Since our visit, the hotel has been remodeled and the contemporary touches and colors are gone, replaced with a more old-world decor.

We woke to a sunny, clear morning with a beautiful, panoramic view of Lake Como from the balcony of our room. Stuffed after a lavish brunch buffet, we hiked the narrow streets of Bellagio to shop for Murano glassware and a few souvenirs.

In the afternoon, we took a nail-biting drive around the lake with its narrow roads, hairpin curves, steep inclines, and heavy traffic. We didn’t worry about the road conditions as much as the inexperienced drivers, who often came around a sharp corner in the middle of the road.

From Bellagio, we drove through the Italian Alps to St. Moritz, where we lunched, then wound our way into Innsbruck for a day of shopping and sightseeing. Up early the next morning, we left Innsbruck for Füssen, in Bavaria, to tour King Ludwig II’s three castles: Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein, and his final retreat, Linderhof.

In Füssen we backtracked to the Autobahn and zipped into Munich to meet friends for Oktoberfest, staying long enough to catch up over a beer and brat, and to buy a souvenir beer mug before we sped down to Salzburg, Austria, for the night.

The next day, we toured Hohensalzburg Castle, wandered through Mirabell Palace and Gardens, and visited Mozart’s birthplace. Later in the day, the tea hour, we lingered over an espresso and a generous slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam and dark chocolate icing).

Early the next morning, we left Salzburg for a two-day visit to Vienna, both of us ready to put down stakes for a while after admitting we had packed too much sightseeing into our three-week trip.

In Vienna, we started our first day with a visit to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. At noon, we stopped at the Hoher Markt Clock, a large glided clock designed in 1914, to watch the parade of all the figures and to listen to the melodic music that accompanied the procession. Afterwards, we toured the Imperial Palace (Hofburg).

On day two in Vienna, due to a misunderstanding by our hotel’s concierge, we missed out on our original plan to take a boat ride down the Danube to Budapest. By the time the matter had been cleared up, our boat had already departed. However, many years later, we would visit Budapest and for much longer than just one day. So day two began at Belvedere Palace and a visit to St. Charles’s Church, completing the evening with a boat ride on the Danube.

When we left Vienna, we drove along the Danube to Melk until the road detoured from the river. Here, we veered inland and sped onto the Autobahn for Passau, Germany. I wanted to see where the three rivers converged: the green Inn, the black Ilz, and the blue Danube. History says the rivers brought wealth to Passau. I saw only beauty as the three flowed into one.

Hugging the Danube, we left Passau for Regensburg, the Danube River’s oldest  medieval town. First on our sightseeing agenda was the ancient Stone Bridge with its sixteen curving arches, but we soon discovered that this charming town had a lot more to offer, so we set off on foot to explore. After leaving the bridge, we paused to snap pictures of the clock tower before we entered the city center. Our destination? The Cathedral of St. Peter (Trierer Dom). On our afternoon jaunt back to our hotel, we came across Historisches Eck and made reservations for dinner. Our five-course meal was superb.

We said goodbye to Regensburg and drove into Würzburg, interested in seeing the Residenz, the former residence of the prince bishops. While my husband lingered to admire the architecture of the building, I toured the court gardens, my sights set on the orangery. Next, we headed for the Festung Marienberg, the fortress with stunning views of the town. We saved the afternoon for a long stroll across the Alte Mainbruecke, pausing on the bridge to enjoy the vistas: the fortress high on the hill surrounded by vibrant green vineyards, the melody of the river as it constantly flowed below us, and the sight of the medieval town itself. Warmed by the afternoon sun, we wound our way through the crowds of tourists and locals, who were sipping wine or beer while listening to the musicians play. I stopped to take pictures at each of the twelve statues: two kings and ten saints that were added to the bridge by the prince-bishops from 1724 to 1746.

Road-weary on our last day, we checked into our hotel in Frankfurt and flew home the following day. My first long trip through Europe was fun, and I would return many years later, especially to Bellagio, where part of a future Darcy McClain novel will be set.

Next week: “My Love Affair with a Giant.”