Saturday, September 28, 2013

Vienna Day 2

We headed out to the Schonbrunn Palace in the morning. It is a large palace that has been compared to the Palace of Versailles in France because of the elaborate rooms and gardens. We didn't get out early enough to miss the crowds so we had to fight through the crowds the whole time inside the palace which made it a little less enjoyable. Pictures are prohibited inside but I snuck this one of Natali's favorite room anyways :-) (Shhh...don't tell).

We then headed out to the gardens. They were nice but we didn't think they were as amazing as we had heard they were, maybe because we have seen some amazing gardens at some of the castles in France or at Versailles. But they had some really great statues and a pretty cool labyrinth that was better than other ones we had been to. We also hiked up the hill behind the palace for some views of Vienna and the palace. We had lunch up there and took some pictures.

We headed to Karlskirche next and it was the best and worst moments of our day. The church is amazing. It has a huge dome and the colors inside are unlike any other church we have seen. The marble was very colorful and the frescos on the ceiling were all painted in light colors that made the whole place seem brighter than it really was. The worst part of it all was seeing this huge, metal scaffolding going up one side of the church all the way to the top that had an elevator on it. People could go up and see the "view" of the city that was through clouded, small windows. Natali and I were so mad about it. They covered up half of the church so that people could go up and get a horrible view of the city. The only good thing is that we were able to see the ceiling up close and get close-up pictures of the frescos.

We walked by the Secession Building. The building got its name because artists seceded from the general rules and created their own gallery for their new art styles. The building has the inscription that says "To every time, its art. To art, its freedom."

We were also able to see a couple of famous apartments designed by a guy named Otto Wagner. He is very famous in Vienna (and seems to have designed like half the city) and here are some of his famous apartments.

That night we went back to Rathaus for some food and entertainment. It is funny that all of the food from every little stand is served on real plates with metal forks and knives. We thought this was very European that they would not want to eat on paper plates or plastic silverware. We still have no idea who did all the dishes at the end of the night.

While leaving Rathaus we noticed that the street was closed and there were a few police cars driving down the road. Right behind them were hundreds of bikers and roller-bladers. They closed down the Main Street and the people were just enjoying their ride on the Main Street of Vienna. Vienna city does all sorts of activities like this, we came across a few street parties and such while we were there. We thought that was pretty interesting.

Then we walked around at night and took some pictures in front of some buildings. The Parliament Building looked great at night so we went there for a while.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Before we start posting pictures of Vienna I just wanted to talk a little about this gem of a city generally. Vienna is one if the more forgotten cities of Europe. And after spending 5 days there, I must say I think that is somewhat of a tragedy (but also great because there aren't so many tourists). Vienna is truly a magnificent city. For one, it is not only extremely walkable but it's actually very enjoyable to walk because you will discover the most beautiful buildings and hidden treasures as you navigate through Vienna on foot. Even when we could have easily taken the bus or tram, we still preferred to walk (not something I would say about most European cities) because walking around Vienna is such a neat experience. Vienna also has a lot of fascinating history that most people have never really learned about before. The stories of the Habsburg family (who ruled in Austria and through much of Europe throughout history) for example, are extremely interesting and we loved learning about them. When we left Vienna we felt a connection with the city because of all we had learned about its history.

One characteristic of Vienna that endeared it to me in particular is that there is always some musical event going on and there is tons of music around Vienna just generally. For example, because the opera was not in season while we were there, the city instead played movies of operas every night out on a huge screen in front of the city hall (Rathaus). Restaurants from all over the city would come and set up food stands right around the screen (seriously every kind of food in the world) so people could eat tons of good food and enjoy the operas. We loved it so much the first night we went, we decided to go back the next night.

Moral of the story is: Vienna is Europe's best-kept secret. I highly recommend you go visit while that is still true (before the hoards of tourists in Florence learn of the secret and migrate). - Natali

Natali wanted to make sure that everyone knew how great Vienna is so she decided to write that first part of the post. We really enjoyed it and so far it would be in the top 3 of our favorite European cities that we have visited.

Vienna Day 1
We didn't do anything on that first night we arrived there because I had to take the rental car to the airport so it was too late to do anything. We woke up to beautiful weather (which made Natali very happy) so we set off to explore. We had a walking tour of the city at 1:00 so we decided to just wander until then. Natali mentioned how cool it was to constantly run into awesome random buildings just walking around the city...Here is an example of one of those:

We were also able to find our way to a couple of cool large statues around the city.

We had heard about a clock that different figures came out of on each hour and at noon, all of the figures would come out. Sadly we didn't find it at a good time so we just got a picture of the front of it.

We had some time to spare so we sat in a square and "people-watched" for a little bit. It is funny because I think we have very few pictures of either of us in Salzburg, probably because the weather put is in a bad mood and we didn't want pictures of us. Anyway, here is Natali, much happier that the weather was better.

We had time to grab lunch and found a little restaurant that we decided to try. Well, they brought out this cool bread stuff so we decided to eat it. It was pretty good. What we didn't know is that they charge you for each one that you eat! So beware when European restaurants bring out fancy bread because you might be surprised with a few extra charges you didn't think you would have (we have only found this to be the case in Austria...most places bring out bread as a courtesy with/before your meal).

The meeting point for the tour was Michealerplatz, named because of the church of St. Michael. It also was the main gate for the Habsburg Palace. The "gate" was a huge building, covered with amazing sculptures and it had three large domes. We learned that only one of the domes originally existed and the other two were built about 150 years ago to match the original building and dome. The sculptures around the doors of the building depict Hercules completing one of his 16 tasks. We generally love Hercules sculptures, except Natali says he is not supposed to have a beard (see, e.g., Disney's Hercules, which is obviously the correct version of the Hercules story).

The tour we booked was supposed to be a small tour group of about 6-8 people. When we finally found our guide, Herbert, he told us that the other 6 had canceled that morning so it was just us two! So we got our own private tour guide to show us around Vienna and introduce us to the city's history. We had signed up for a 3-hour tour and that was a mistake. The first two hours were amazing, but we were tired and we didn't see much more during that third hour that it wasn't worth it. The guide was super nice and very knowledgeable. It has been a while (we've gotten way behind on blogging because of not having time/wi-fi) so I have forgotten a lot of the stories behind the buildings but I will try to share what I remember. What I don't remember I'll just make up ;).

He took us first into St. Michael's church. It is interesting that each church or basilica is named after a saint and most of the decorations have to do with that saint. On this church out front there is a large statue of Michael thrusting Lucifer down from heaven. Inside there are more depictions of this and other things that St. Michael did. This church is one of the older ones in Vienna so the front of the church is a little bit more boring than the others but I really like the statues out front.

Herbert then took us into Habsburg Palace. He explained a little bit about Empress Elisabeth, also known as Sisi. Natali really liked her and enjoyed learning more about her so she could probably tell you more than I could. There are museums about her but we didn't go to any of them. Basically she was just a very interesting personality. She wouldn't let anyone paint her after like 30 years old because she didn't want the world to see her aging. She was about 5'8 and 95 pounds for much of her life (mostly because she was basically anorexic in her eating habits). She kept a diary that details her disdain for her mother-in-law, being married to a stranger at a young age etc. She just had a lot of personality and was very quirky. She was assassinated. Interestingly, the guy who killed her actually intended to kill another royal but when that royal didn't show up and she did, the assassinator decided that killing some royal was better than none.

He showed us the National Library next as well as the two large statues out front. Each one is a bronze statue of a horse and rider. The one further away from the library was interesting because normally the statues have at least 3 base points such as 2 legs and the tail, or three legs. This statue only has the back two legs holding it up which is pretty impressive for such a big statue.

He told us a bunch of history stuff like how Austria actually had a HUGE empire. They got almost all of the land through marriages. They didn't have to fight any wars but rule fell to them when they married into the family and then the king or emperor died that they married and it fell into Austrian rule. At one point they owned so much of the world that the sun never set on their empire.

We then went into the Augustinekirche, also known as the wedding church. The best thing in it was a large cenotaph (empty tomb) that was made by Antonio Canova. The thing that Natali loves to see is the clothing and material of sculptures and how they seem to flow and blow in the wind. Canova is a master at making materials seem like they can actually move when they are actually carved out of marble. This cenotaph was made for Archduchess Maria Christina and was supposed to represent her husband's love for her (that's why it is built in the shape of a pyramid because his love will last through the ages like the pyramids).

This is jumping ahead a little bit but we actually found another cenotaph very similar to this one in Venice. It was made by the same guy and is his own cenotaph. We weren't looking for it but we just came across it in one of the churches we went into and thought it was awesome.

We went by St. Stephens Cathedral and took some pictures. It is a huge church but the thing that stands out is the tile roof. It doesn't really belong (well we don't think so) but it is interesting. We didn't get a very good picture of the front so this will have to do.

This was about the 2-hour mark and we were getting tired. The next hour dragged on but we did get to see this fresco on the side of a building. It is a cow with glasses playing Backgammon with a dog (or wolf?).
Well that was the main thing we saw until we got to the last main stop, the Jesuit Church. The inside of it was amazing. On the ceiling there is a painted dome. When you look up (from a certain angle) it looks like there is an actual dome when in reality it is just a flat ceiling painted to look like a dome.

We were tired so we got some gelato (yeah we started to get our bodies ready for all the gelato in Italy) and rested for a little while. We were bummed when we found out that August is not opera season so we weren't able to watch an opera while in Vienna. But one upside of that is that the city puts up this huge screen outside of the Rathaus Plaza or the City Hall. They show an opera on the screen and there is all kinds of food lining up on the sides of the plaza. We saw Australian, Indian, American, Japanese, and lots of other kinds of food. We sat down and ate and waited for the opera to begin.
We watched about 20 minutes of it then decided to head around town to see if we could find anything else interesting to take pictures of.

And there ends our first day in Vienna...