We LOVE Vienna. We have spent 17 days at the campground near Vienna, touring both the city and the surrounding area. This morning (Sunday) Mike and I biked 6 km to visit Schönbrunn Palace. Far across the grounds from the palace was the lovely Gloriette built in 1775 and now converted into a café. It started to rain, so Mike and I decided to have Sunday brunch here. Below was the view of the Schönbrunn Palace and Vienna that we had while drinking our cappuccino and enjoying sweets. Because of the rain, we left without actually getting to the Palace.
We came back Monday morning to tour Schönbrunn Palace. It was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs. It is interesting to note that their primary residence was less than 5 km or 3 miles away in downtown Vienna. When you buy your ticket for the tour of the palace you are given an entrance time. According to the internet, the crowds are normally so large that your entrance time is often the next day. Mike and I got in instantly and, in a few of the rooms, we where completely on our own. This is awful for the tourism industry, but I have to say, we get to see a lot more things close-up than we would have otherwise. I was considering flying to a couple of major cities for a few days to take advantage of the lack of crowds. Mike reminded me that the border control here is very fluid. It is based on the latest covid statistics from each given country. This means that we could have a problem getting back to the RV and continuing our journey, so we decided against it. It is too bad, as this is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. The two pictures of Schönbrunn show you that the grounds are not completely empty of people but there certainly aren’t enough to cause any problems. It even makes taking photographs so much nicer and easier.
The property at Schönbrunn is huge. In addition to the Gloriette, the main palace, the grounds and the woods the site has the world’s oldest zoo, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn. The zoo is well known for the number of rare animals found there. We intended to visit the zoo but the rain on Sunday prevented that and we simply ran out of time. During the 2nd world war, 300 bombs were dropped on the zoo. 2,000 animals out of 3,500 died.
Vienna is all about the architecture everywhere. It isn’t just the famous buildings, there are lots of beautiful “normal” buildings all around the city with marvellous designs, plasterwork, statues and more. Mike and I spent quite a while one day just bicycling around the city. It is beautiful. 20% of Vienna was destroyed in WWII. The city was bombed 52 times and more than 3,000 bomb craters have been counted. The famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral received a direct hit in April 1945 and was subsequently renovated and fully restored. Mike and I toured the Opera House of which 80% was totally destroyed by fire after an American bombardment in March 1945. Only the main facade, the grand staircase, and one foyer remained. After much discussion, it was decided to rebuild very similar to the original with some modernization. Our tour guide didn’t really think that the reconstruction was up to par with the original.
The one item that was a bit of a disappointment was the boat tour of Vienna from the Danube canal. You just didn’t get to see enough from the boat to make it interesting.
In the heart of the city is “The Hofburg”, an extensive palatial complex that was the political centre of the monarchy. This was the primary residence of the Hapsburgs that I mentioned earlier. Mike and I toured part of the palace. Audio guides in English were provided which really helps. The buildings that make up the palace are magnificent. This is the main location to find the horse and buggies for tourists.
While cycling around the city we came upon a street busier than any we had seen in the last six months. It turns out that this is known as the shopping area of Vienna. In Vienna, when you order a cappuccino you never know if you will be surprised with whipped cream or if it will be made with normal foam milk. You can probably ask for one or the other, but I like the surprise and feel less guilty that way. Coffee houses have been very important in Vienna for hundreds of years. In 2011, Viennese coffee house culture was included by the UNESCO in the national inventory of intangible cultural heritage. I don’t actually know what this means other than the Viennese love their coffee.
The one place we have been that was busier than I liked was the Museum of Illusions. We had been to one of these museums in Ljubljana and really appreciated it. So we decided to visit the one in Vienna. We went there on a Saturday which might have been a mistake with so many kids running around. We still enjoyed ourselves.
One day we visited Kunsthistorisches Museum a major art museum in Vienna. There were two full rooms of Reuben paintings which made me quite happy. Mike rightfully thought that although the exhibits were interesting the building itself made the day. Here is another lovely café (in the museum) where we spent some time.
In a few hours one day Mike and I stopped in and visited three different churches in the city. They are the real art galleries as far as we are concerned. Most of the churches seem to be open. Quite a few of the cafés and restaurants are closed and many of the major attractions are open shorter hours than normal.
For something slightly different, we biked up to Prater park in the northern part of Vienna. It is an amusement park. Its most famous attraction is the Giant Ferris Wheel that was originally built in 1897 and was the tallest in the world until 1985. In 1914, for a film, a rider completed a full rotation while on a horse standing on the roof of one of the Ferris Wheel cabins. Two years later a demolition permit was issued but the Giant Ferris Wheel was saved due to a lack of funds with which to carry out the destruction. The Ferris Wheel was another of the Vienna landmarks that was destroyed during the bombings and then rebuilt. This year, thanks to corona, was the first time that the attraction had been closed in 73 years. It was running again when Mike and I visited the park. While at the park we also visited Madame Tussauds. Not only are the wax figures very realistic looking, the museum encourages you to sit on benches and curl up next to famous individuals for photo ops.
Our campsite is about a three-minute walk from a subway station that takes you right downtown. A few times we have taken the subway to give my backside a rest from the bike riding. Until this week, although we use Google maps extensively, neither Mike nor I had ever used it to give us directions for public transit. It is excellent. It shows you the train you are supposed to take, where you change trains if necessary, how long it should take. Technology is great.
I had read on the internet that the Palace of Justice, where the Supreme Court is, had a small café on the top floor. It is open to the public, no charge to get in, and has great views over the city. There is however a security check similar to those at an airport. Mike and I decided to go there for lunch on our last day in Vienna. We walked in the front doors and our jaws dropped. The inside is spectacular and was very unexpected.
I will post one more article, probably fairly quickly, that covers the area outside the actual city and a bit of a summary of our month in Austria. Next, we head for Slovakia.