Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wien the wondrous

Vienna is another jewel in the crown of Austria. It is amazing that such a small country holds such a wealth of scenic beauty, architectural richness and gastronomic delights!

After hearing Antony and Amanda’s news we have been trying to get them on their mobiles, without any luck. We know that they still haven’t reached home in Darwin, so all we can do is keep trying. We finally get on to them about 9 am this morning as they are pulling in to Mataranka. Turns out that they were half way between Mount Isa and Camooweal early yesterday morning when out of the left came a kangaroo, a BIG roo – straight into the front left panel of their car. Its OK, they are all fine. Luckily they could get a mobile phone signal – but only with Antony standing on the roof of the car! They were lucky – a few kilometres either way and they would not have been able to pick up a signal at all. They wait almost 5 hours for a tow back in to Mount Isa. I asked Amanda if Izabella was OK during the long wait and she just laughed – “Sure”, she said, “she had all the kangaroos to watch!” The car is not drivable and needs about $4,000 worth of repairs (first estimate!). Being Mount Isa, spares are not easy to come by – they need a new bumper, front passenger door and maybe a new front left panel as well as work on the electrics. So they end up having to hire a car to drive back to Darwin. Oh, and by the way, the kangaroo just hopped away for anyone who is interested.

We both slept really well despite the bunk beds – I slept on the top of course. NOT! Breakfast is a now familiar affair of bread rolls with processed sliced meats and cheese and a cup of weak coffee. Oh yay, for an extra €3 we can get a glass of fresh orange juice – not watered down! After breakfast we upload the blog and then buy a Vienna Pass – good for 72 hours. That will cover us for all travel on the public transport and a whole lot of good discounts on attractions, the hop on- hop off Ring Tram as well as shopping discounts. Pretty good value! So after we study the guide and earmark pages of all the things we would like to see, we set out, catching the tram just across the road from the youth hostel.

We are about 12 stops and 15 minutes from where we want to go. We travel through suburbs, seeing the daily life of the Viennesse. Hanging out their washing, taking children to the park, doing the shopping. Like people in any suburb in any large town in any country. We are basically all the same.

We travel in to the Schwedenplatz stop which is very close to Stephensdom – one of the wonders of Vienna. I want Michael’s first view to be from a distance and so we back track a little, coming across the oldest church in Vienna, St Ruperts, that dates back to the 8th century. But it is not open today, so we turn towards Stephenplatz and the Cathedral, winding down back streets and marvelling at the architecture as we go. And then all of a sudden, there is the Cathedral – not the view I had wanted for Michael, but he is impressed just the same! So I’ll let him tell you about it for a while.

"Wow!" - that's all I could say upon the instant of me seeing the Cathedral. So, what you ask is so appealing about religious structures to a...Heathen? I can assure you it has nothing at all to do with religion. Is it the architecture, the engineers who brilliantly designed and constructed these edifices; the logistics of the time when these marvels were created or the people. Whether you admire a pyramid, a temple, a henge, a cairn or a solitary 16' standing stone they all have to do with people - gods may be the reason, its people who are the purpose. Likened to a cemetery as historical timeline, so is architecture in any form. Believe me folks when I suggest that churchs, abbey's and cathedrals are a major drawcard in the tourism machine.

Today was no exception, as I recovered from my initial reaction to the monument I was taken aback by the volume of humanity surrounding it. I suppose the most impressive feature, (apart from its towers and spires,) is the roof with its tessellated patterns - it appeared to be similar to a Roman mosaic! However, entering the building was something else... Looking beyond the guilding and trappings...the architure and sculpture was mesmerising: from the ribbed vaulting, the stone lacework and to the cavenous interior. Ignoring the throng around me, I am just captivated by this 12th century marvel.

Entry into the cathedrals' western tower is permitted and, wait for it, access is via an elevator! Yes, Sir! No spiral staircases and hundreds of stairs today. At a cost of €4.50 each, Maria and I travel upon the vertical path towards the apex. The view over Wien is just awesome, as is the cathedral's amazing roof which also contains the pattern of Vienna's standard - an eagle, well in this case two! Not only can we admire the view, but also have the opportunity to amaze at the intricate detail of the stonework which cannot be discerned from ground level! However,across the panorama we can see a myriad of towers and domes of the various historical buildings. There is a higher viewing platform, and as I climb towards it there is an excellent view of the bell in its belfry.

And then there was the meeting of another Aussie couple at the top of the Stephensdom platform who instantly recognised us as Australians thanks to Michael’s Akubra. The bloke is just gobsmacked at the age of the Cathedral, which he blurts out: "How in the hell did they do it; its a 12th century building?!" In total we spend about 2 hours at the Cathedral.

Lunch afterwards was taken at the Café de l’Europe sitting on the Graben Straβe, watching the world walk by. There are many many Arabs holidaying in Vienna right now – and all toting bags and bags from the designer stores. So glad that our petrol money is helping Europe to recover from the economic downturn twice over!! Lunch was okay, but not up to that of yesterday. Michael ordered Tortellini mit freshum Blattspinat und Ricotta (Tortellini with fresh leaf spinach and ricotta) while I had the Crostini mit Kirschtomaten, Knoblauch und Basilikum (Crostini with tomato, garlic and basil). Mine was very light on the garlic and basil, but Michael said his was delicious.

The café seems to specialise in desserts and so we order Nutella Spaghetti! That is, ‘noodles’ of ice cream with nutella sauce and hazelnuts – mmmm, that was worth the wait! While we eat lunch there is one of street artists just outside the arcade opposite where we are sitting. She is doing it easier than most of them – she is sitting down. Maybe this is why most people just walk passed her, not even seeing her – there are some though that are mesmerized – especially the little children and the Japanese ladies!

After lunch we continue walk up the Graben Straβe marvelling at the statues with every second one lavishly gilded. And as in the other large European cities, there are roadworks and restoration works happening everywhere. We turn down back streets until we reach Kohlmarkt and turn right for the Opera House where we again pick up the Ring Tram, this time to Museumplatz. There are two impressive buildings that flank Maria Theresia Platz which itself is home to a memorial statue dedicated to Maria Theresia, perhaps the most powerful empress of the Hapsburg dynasty – she ruled Austria in the 18th Century, along with a myriad of other statues and fountains.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (these were once the stables for the imperial family) boasts one of the finest collections of Egyptian, Greek, Roman artifacts and works by famous artists in Europe. Its interior is as impressive as the exterior; each of the exhibition halls are decorated in the artwork of the displayed period. If the foyer is any indication I can't wait to see the rest.

I start with the Egyptian exhibition and walking through the doors is likened to entering a temple. Sarcophagi, mummies, papyri and other artifacts are displayed in muted light for conservation. An army of wardens continually patrol the corridors not only to ensure nothing untowards occurs but curb those visitors who insist on ignoring signs advising - NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY. There are many museums throughout Europe who are generous by permitting photography, so long as a flash is not employed.

The following exhibitions are just as impressive, displaying an array of examples depicting what life was like in those past cultures. Notably, the Roman section had an enviable collection of busts of emperors and of the common person. Watching me carefully were the eyes of Marcus Auraleus, Octavian, Hadrian and Vespasian - just to name a few.

I then moved onto The Masters. As you walk through the doors of the gallery, there is an impressive list of those artists whose works are represented - including two of my favourites: Hieronymus Bosch and
Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I could prattle on, but like today I don't have the time!

After the museum, Maria and I sit the park for a while and enjoy the sunshine. Maria decides to return to the Hostel, and I remain in the city to explore further. Saying farewell to my Maria, and leaving her at the tram stop I proceed towards the Rathaus. Well, as I walked along Burg Ring (no, it's not a joke) I saw the Burgtor Gate which leads in to the Heldenplatz. The Heldenplatz is the precinct which comprises of the Hofburg Imperial Palace. It was here in 1938 after the annexation by the National Socialist German Workers' Party, that Adolf Hitler infamously spoke to the Austrian people. Ironically, across from the Hofberg is Heroe's Square (Heldenplatz) and a statue of the Archduke Charles of Austria, commerating those lost to conflicts.

I continue my promenade through the carriageway that once led out of it, but now is an open thoroughfare for pedestrians, taxis and horsedrawn vehicles. What, you may ask? Well the carriageway was originally part of the Imperial Apartments aqnd allowed the monarchs and their guests to alight out of the weather. Now this is a precinct you have to see. And when I get back to the youth hostel, Maria tells me that this is almost the exact same path she trod with Michael, Mum and Donna in 2006.

It seems that all of Europe is a concert at the moment and Vienna is no different. Apart from the usual Mozart concerts and the Operas that are offered here daily, there are huge open air summer concerts etc. Vienna's is in the plaza of the Rathaus so the view of this impressive building is obscured slightly by the large screen that is presently sitting in front of it. Oh well, at least the photo shows the time and moment!

The amount of impressive architecture on show is amazing - and it is not only the civic buildings. Some of the top hotels too are in majestic structures - many of them once large public buildings. And the inner city apartment blocks too are amazing both in architectural style and attention to building ornamentation. All put together, it paints a picture of wealth and affluence and a history of architecture through the ages. But this is a bit of an incorrect picture. Firstly, there was a swathe of buildings and most of the City Wall that was demolished in old Vienna in the mid 19th Century to make way for the construction of what is today the Ring Road. This wide one-way avenue circuits the city just outside the old town and provides space for the tram system, cars, bikes and pedestrians. Then Vienna suffered substantially in the bombings of WWII and many of the civic buildings (in particular) were re-built. So what is old is new again and sometimes a little bit of a misnomer!

Still so much to see, so we will sign off now. Back out into it tomorrow for half a day or so before we head to Bratislava in Slovakia. We have decided though that once we spend a few days in Slovakia we will come back to Vienna (to a hotel) for another day, and then a day in Melk - we are determined to see that Abbey!

1 comment:

Katharina said...

Hello you two,
have you found any dirty spots in Vienna, yet? I told you there were some, if you looked hard - and after your trip through the suburbs, you should have found the odd one or two...
Enjoy your trip to Bratislave - can't wait to read your blog and see what you think of it!
Take care, Kathi