Where to start? Vienna is magical, beautiful, fun, classic, classy, sophisticated, cozy….anything you want it to be, you will find here! The buildings are astounding, the taxis, Ubers, and subways easy to find and use, the food is absolutely delicious (think Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel!), the people warm and charming. It is everything you hope for when you travel. Known as the City of Music, there are posters for concerts everywhere you look, and even many people in Mozart costumes hawking tickets as you pass by them!
Evidence indicates that Vienna has been inhabited since 500 BC, when Celts settled on the Danube River. The city was heavily bombed in early 1945 by the Allies, destroying most of the Opera House and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, both proud symbols of the city and both seen in our photos. A total of 80,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Vienna in February and March, 1945, destroying more than 12,000 buildings and leaving 270,000 people homeless. But it has been rebuilt, of course, and most buildings look as if they have been nestled in for centuries.
The first seven photos are of the Opera House. We have been in Vienna several times over the last few years and always seek out sights we missed on previous visits. So, this time we were going to tour the Opera House. To our chagrin, the only days it was closed for tours this month were the five days we are here! When we mentioned that to our friends Filip and Milada, Filip said he would take us in and give us a tour, as he is a musician in the Vienna Philharmonic and had rehearsal there this morning. And so, we were the only ones in the concert hall! It was amazing, as we got to stand in the orchestra pit and walk to all the levels to take photos. So, you can see the beauty and grandeur of the building in the first three photos, and then the small plywood room with a chair and monitor, where someone sits to provide help for singers if they forget the words of a song! This is just behind the orchestra, under the stage. The room with the five chandeliers is where potential members of the orchestra audition. The jury is behind the wall at the very end, so they are only listening for technique, precision, etc., and not judging by who the person is. We asked Filip, “Were you very nervous when you auditioned?” He answered, “Of course, yes!”
After the Opera photos are several of the Votivkirche…the Votive Church, which is also known as a Thank You Church, constructed around the world as thanks to God for some terrible event being thwarted. In this instance, it was thanks for the life of the Emperor Franz Joseph I following an unsuccessful assassination attempt. It is quite startling, approaching the church from down the street, to think you see a gigantic beer advertisement over the front facade of the church, and then to get closer and realize that you are not crazy…it is a beer ad! But then, walking around the side, you notice the gargoyles and the gorgeous Baroque gingerbread decoration on the top of the church. The inside is magnificent, too…a high vaulted ceiling with paintings, statues, and older stained glass windows, with new richly colored windows below.
After the church, off to the amusement park, Prater Park. It is one of the remaining parks that are free to enter (as Disneyland was, at one time), and you buy tickets for the rides that you wish to enjoy. It has two Ferris wheels, so we all went on the higher, bigger one on a cloudy day so that from the top we could get that iconic shot of the Riesenrad, the 1897-ish Ferris wheel featured in several movies, most notably, Orson Welles’ The Third Man. We say 1897-ish because the original was bombed and destroyed in WW II, but was such a beloved sight in the city that it was rebuilt and reopened in 1947, albeit with fewer cars. The cars can be rented for parties or romantic dinners! Always a new way to make a buck…. The photo following it is one of the weird sculptures around the park. Every building seemed to be decorated with statues that were freaky, scary, or unusual. But it didn’t seem to faze the children too much, as even though it was cloudy and rainy with creepy sculptures, there were many children around! We had dinner at the Rollercoaster Restaurant, a giant room with (small) roller coaster tracks overhead. You order your food on an iPad (no servers present), and it is made and packed in the kitchen and sent to your table on tiny roller coaster cars that careen down from the ceiling, right to your table! The children delighted in that aspect, as well as the frequent light/music shows, but we old folks also found it to be fun.
After the Prater Park photos is the another Vienna icon, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the heart of the city. Known around the world as Stephandom, it was first built in the 10th century, burned down in a fire, and was rebuilt with various towers and additions over the centuries. As you can see, it is impressive both inside and outside. As we mentioned previously, it was bombed and caught fire in WWII, destroying the roof and much of the building. By 1952, it had been restored and reopened. It is known for its tiled roof, and inside, look at those columns! They are also carved and decorated, making them both functional and beautiful.
Following the photos of St. Stephen’s are just an array of gorgeous buildings we noticed as we walked around Vienna. As we said in a previous post, we are always looking UP, and we see buildings topped with statues, paintings, mosaics, gold detail….stunning stuff that we would otherwise miss. We don’t know what all the buildings are, we just like them. Let them wash over you as you just enjoy the sights. The last photo is of Karlskirche, the church of St. Charles Borromeo, completed in 1737. Considered the most outstanding baroque church in Vienna, it also is a Votive Church, built by Charles VI after a plague epidemic, as St. Charles was considered the patron saint and healer of plague sufferers. It is most impressive, set on a large square with a fountain, and benches ringing the fountain. It was really nice to be able to sit and enjoy the people and sights for a while. In traveling full time, we often have the need for somewhere to sit, but more often than not, public seating is not provided by cities. We assume it is because they want us to patronize a business and buy a drink and a seat, so it is a very welcome treat when benches invite us in!