Thursday, September 28: This morning, we enjoy a lovely buffet breakfast in the Pannonia Hotel in Sopron, Hungary. Then it’s time to pack up our stuff and head to Austria.
After breakfast, we catch a ride with Comfy Tour to Vienna, Austria. It’s only about an hour drive, and we probably should have taken a bus for a cheaper journey, but it is certainly hassle-free and convenient. Our young driver, Joe, is easy-going and talkative, telling us of his love of travel. He and I share a love of Sintra, Portugal and Cappadocia, Turkey, where we both took sunrise balloon rides over the moon-like landscape. He also loves Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, a place I long to visit. He is heading to Barcelona soon, another favorite of mine.
We arrive at around 9:45 a.m. and leave our bags at our hotel, Cordial Theaterhotel Wien, where it’s too early to check in.
We immediately head out to explore Vienna, as we have only 3 days here, and one of them will be spent on a bicycle wine tour of the Wachau Valley. Of course, we have to stop for coffee and a pastry.
We are using the Rick Steves book Vienna Salzburg & Tirol to be as efficient as possible with our time. Our plan is to first take the Ringstrasse Tram Tour, a self-guided tour using the book.
The first thing we do is buy the two-day transit pass for about $27; we put the tickets in the machine the first time we use them for a time-and-date stamp and then keep the tickets with us the rest of the time we’re in Vienna in case someone asks to see them. Apparently, if officials ask to see your ticket and you don’t have one, they can fine you a large sum right on the spot.
We start the Ringstrasse Tram Tour in front of the opera house.
We get on tram #2, heading against the direction of traffic, and follow Rick Steves’ advice to sit on the right side of the tram.
There are a lot of sights to see on the Ringstrasse, created when Emperor Franz Josef tore down the city’s medieval wall and replaced it with the wide boulevard in the 1860s. It circles nearly three miles around the city’s core.
Tram #2 doesn’t go the full circuit; we must transfer to tram #1 at the Schwedenplatz stop. We do so, and continue around the circuit. As it’s difficult to take pictures from a moving tram, I don’t bother, so if you want to take the tour and see the sights, you’ll have to visit Vienna on your own! 🙂
From tram #1, we get off on the northwest part of the circuit to see the Neo-Gothic “votive church” sitting across a small park; it is currently under renovation. This type of church was built to thank God for his help, “in this case when an 1853 assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Josef failed,” according to Steves.
Back on the tram, we continue around the circuit, ending up back in front of the Opera House. Here, we begin the “Vienna City Walk” from the book.
Vienna is a very polished city, maybe a little too polished for my taste. The architecture is stunning though: Neoclassical, Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Renaissance. I find some beautiful tiles as we begin our walk.
The Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper), built in 1869, is one of the world’s premier concert venues. Typical of Vienna’s 19th century buildings, it is Neo-Renaissance in style. On May 25, 1869, the opera house “opened with Mozart’s DON JUAN in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth,” according to Wiener Staatsoper: History.
The years 1938 to 1945 were a dark chapter in the history of the opera house. Under the Nazis, many members of the house were driven out, pursued, and killed, and many works were not allowed to be played.
On March 12, 1945, the opera house was devastated during a bombing, but on May 1, 1945, the “State Opera in the Volksoper” opened with a performance of Mozart’s THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO. On October 6, 1945, the hastily restored “Theaters an der Wien” reopened with Beethoven’s FIDELIO. For the next ten years the Vienna State Opera operated in two venues while the true headquarters was being rebuilt at a great expense.
As we cross over to the opera house, among statues and fountains, we’re approached by a young man in costume trying to sell tickets to a Mozart and Strauss Concert at Palais Palffy. We’re not sure about buying tickets from someone on the street, but he offers to walk with us to the venue’s ticket office to prove he’s legit. We buy tickets for a concert for Friday night. What we find so appealing about these tickets is that we don’t have to get dressed up to enjoy a concert in Vienna. We don’t really feel like doing the whole opera thing and we don’t really have the clothes to get all gussied up.
As we walk with the costumed ticket salesperson, we walk past Cafe Sacher, home of the 1832 “Sacher torte: two layers of cake separated by apricot jam and covered in dark chocolate icing, usually served with whipped cream,” according to Steves. We don’t partake because we already had breakfast in Sopron and a pastry near our hotel, and now it’s almost lunchtime.
We also walk past Albertinaplatz, a square in the midst of the Hofburg Palace and the Albertina Museum.
Right across from the concert venue, Palais Palffy, on Josefsplatz, is where a scene from the 1949 black and white film noir, The Third Man, was filmed. In the movie, American Holly Martins is offered a job in Vienna after WWII by his friend Harry Lime. When Holly arrives in Vienna, he finds that Lime is dead from a traffic accident. Martins meets with Lime’s acquaintances to investigate what he considers a suspicious death. The scene we see today is the spot where Harry was hit by a car.
We see a lot of horse-drawn carriages in Vienna, which add to the city’s royal charm.
As we walk back through Albertinaplatz, we pass The Monument Against War and Fascism, which memorializes all victims of war and “commemorates the dark years when Austria came under Nazi rule (1938–1945),” according to Steves. You can read more about it here.
We continue our walk up the pedestrian-only street, Kärntner Strasse. Though a shopping street today, it is the same road Crusaders marched down as they headed to the Holy Land in the 12th century, according to Steves. Fragrant flower shops adorn the street.
Under the Capuchin Church lies the Imperial Crypt. Austria’s once powerful Habsburg royals lie buried here in pewter coffins, including Franz Josef and Empress Sisi. According to Wikipedia: Capuchin Church, “the bodies of 145 Habsburg royalty, plus urns containing the hearts or cremated remains of four others, are deposited here, including 12 emperors and 18 empresses.”
Neuer Markt is one of the oldest squares in Vienna, although many of the buildings around it were built after WWII. Churchill made it a point to bomb Vienna’s inner city as he found the Austrians to be too enthusiastic over the Nazis.
The Baroque Donnerbrunnen Fountain, also known as the four rivers fountain, shows Lady Providence surrounded by figures that symbolize the rivers that flow into the Danube. This fountain was featured in the 1995 film, Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. In the movie, two young people, Jesse and Celine, meet on a train in Europe and end up spending one night together in Vienna.
Empress Maria Theresa found the sexy statue offensive and formed commissions to preserve her city’s moral standards, according to Rick Steves.
Of course I have to stop at a shop to add to my scarf collection, while Mike waits patiently on a bench.
After stopping for lunch at a modern cafe in which about 30 priests are congregated, we find ourselves at Stephansplatz, the square where the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral sits.
Around Stephansplatz, we find the Aida Cafe and other impressive buildings.
The cathedral’s massive 450-foot tall south tower is its highest point and a dominant feature of the Vienna skyline. Its construction lasted 65 years, from 1368 to 1433. The highlight is its ornately patterned, richly colored roof, covered by 230,000 glazed tiles, according to Wikipedia. There is no special symbolism to the zigzag tiles, which are purely decorative.
After already climbing so many steps in numerous cathedrals in Hungary, we decide to forego this one.
It is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna.
We circle the entire cathedral before going inside. We find more pretty flower shops behind the cathedral.
The Capistran Chancel, the pulpit which sits outdoors to address crowds too large to fit inside, is where the Franciscan friar and Catholic priest St. John Capistrano and Hungarian general John Hunyadi encouraged a crusade in 1456 to repel Muslim invasions of Christian Europe.
We continue our walk around St. Stephen’s Cathedral, some of which looks a little soot-covered.
Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral, it is dark and crowded and much of it is blocked off to visitors. The nave is nine stories tall and as long as a football field, according to Steves. The main part of the church contains 18 altars, with more in the various chapels.
The Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave was ordered in 1447 by Emperor Frederick III, whose tomb is located in the opposite direction.
After our tour of St. Stephen’s, we get back on the tram with a plan to visit the Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment complex designed by painter and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000).
It’s quite a long walk from where we exit the tram. First we pass the Kunst Haus Wien Museum with its checkerboard facade.
We walk past the museum, still heading for the apartment complex. There are so many colorful and beautifully designed buildings in Vienna.
Friedensreich Hundertwasser advocated natural forms of decay in architecture. He advocated for forested roofs, “tree tenants” and the “window right” of every tenant to embellish the facade around his windows. He wanted harmony between man, nature and architecture. You can read more about the architect’s philosophy here.
Within Hundertwasserhaus, there are 53 apartments, four offices, 16 private terraces and three communal terraces, and a total of 250 trees and bushes. It has become a part of Austria’s cultural heritage (Wikipedia: Hundertwasserhaus).
The Hundertwasser Village was built both inside and out by the concepts of artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser during the years 1990 and 1991. The building was used as car tire factory before that time.
Hundertwasserhaus was built between 1983 and 1985 and features undulating floors, a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. Hundertwasser designed the house for free to prevent something ugly from going up in its place (Wikipedia: Hundertwasserhaus).
Hundertwasserhaus is certainly a colorful and unusual place to see in Vienna, especially compared to the city’s classical architecture.
On the way back, we stop in briefly at the Kunst Haus Wien Museum, where we admire the artist’s work in the gift shop, on the patio, and on the bathroom doors.
After the long walk back, we take the tram again, getting off near the Burg Theater to walk the rest of the way back to our hotel. The Burg Theater was created in 1741 and has become known as “die Burg” by the Viennese population. It is one of the most important German language theaters in the world.
Across the street from the Burg Theater is the Neo-Gothic City Hall, or Wiener Rathaus. Built from 1872 to 1883, it houses the office of the Mayor of Vienna as well as the chambers of the city council and Vienna Landtag diet, the representative assembly in German-speaking countries.
We walk back to our hotel as the sun goes down, stopping at a grocery store to get some light cheese and crackers for dinner.
Steps today: 13,338 (5.65 miles).