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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”