Last Day In Vienna, Austria

Today was our last day in Vienna, so we made sure to see whatever parts of the city we hadn’t yet seen. On our way out of the hotel, a collection of rare cars were actually driving past us on their way to a parade, so we got our own private a sneak peek!

We walked around the city, and came across a beautiful memorial, called Heldendenkmal, or the Soviet War Memorial built by the Soviets upon the liberation of Austria. In 1945, this memorial was built by the Soviet Army to commemorate the 17,000 Soviet soldiers who died during World War II in the Battle for Vienna. In 1955 when the troops withdrew and Austria became independent, a treaty was signed that included the fact that Heldendenkmal had to be maintained and could never be taken down. There have been various attempts to dismantle the memorial, but at the end of the day, historians have a point when they say that Heldendenkmal is important in remembering Vienna’s history.

We then walked through Stadtpark which is a beautiful park in the city, opened in 1862, making it Vienna’s first public park. Stadtpark has been called the richest park in Vienna due to the numerous monuments and statues that can be found throughout. The most well known monument in the park is one that commemorates Johann Strauss, an Austrian composer born near Vienna. One of his most famous works is “The Blue Danube,” which is the European Union’s longest river, found in Central and Eastern Europe. Other monuments in Stadtpark include ones for Franz Schubert, Franz Lehar and Robert Stolz, a marble statue of the painter, Hans Makart, bronze busts of composer, Anton Bruckner, Vienna Mayor, Andreas Zelinka, under whose governance the Stadtpark was laid out, and many more (http://www.wien.info).

After walking around the city, our group went out to dinner to celebrate our last night in the city, which also happened to be my last night on the trip before having to return home. Everyone else traveled to Prague the following day, but I had to fly back before school started. Luckily for us, this night was a part of a Viennese three-day harvest festival from Friday until Sunday at midnight. During this time, locals wear colorful dresses, short pants, and high-socks and celebrate with one another, which was evident since all the bars were packed! There is also a wine festival celebrated in Vienna which takes place during the first Sunday of October, but unfortunately we weren’t going to be there to celebrate.

A side note/interesting fact that we learned was that there is a pipeline system that comes to Vienna from the alps, which is why the water is so pure. This makes the taste of the water much more delicious and it is said to be softer water too, which can be noted when taking a shower. Since the water is so pure, no purification systems are needed, and one can drink straight from the tap!

Our dinner consisted of all traditional Viennese food including traditional salads, spreads, wine and beer, chicken and veal schnitzel, and of course apple strudel for dessert! This was the perfect way to end an incredible trip to Poland, Hungary, and Austria, all throughout Central Europe.

Day 1 In Bratislava, Slovakia Continued

Continuing with our tour, we walked by the oldest University in Slovak territory, which was founded in 1465. Not this particular university, but public schools of higher education are free to students in Bratislava, which made me start thinking about potentially sending my children here for school in the future!

During World War II, 160,000 Jews were taken from Slovakia, and only 70,000 returned, but left again shortly after. Currently, there are only 4,000 Jewish citizens in Slovakia, and a mere 600 residing in Bratislava. With that being said, we passed a family owned bookshop called “Steiner”, which had been in business for close to 100 years in Bratislava before the government confiscated all Jewish property. Selma, one of the daughter’s in the family was the only member who survived the Holocaust. Her parents and siblings were all killed, and by the time the war ended, she was 20 years old with no remaining immediate family. Selma’s surviving family left Bratislava after the war, except Selma and her cousin decided to stay. Although the bookstore was rightfully returned to her, it was confiscated once again shortly after due to the course of communism. In 1991, Selma was able to reopen her family bookstore with a simple oval sign, “Steiner” that has shown its resiliency since the first reopening after the war Selma passed away in 2010, but her employees own and run the store, still under the Steiner name, with the sign continuing to hang outside.

There are 5.4 million people living in Slovakia, with a 14 percent rate of unemployment and a 4 percent rate of unemployment in Bratislava. The monthly average salary is around 800 euros, which comes out to around 910 dollars.

Many of the traditional restaurants here serve gnocchi covered in cheep cheese and bacon bryndza, which is the city’s typical meal. Creamy garlic soup and cabbage soup are also both typical for important holidays such as Christmas and New Years.

Continuing with our city tour, we came across Michael’s Gate, which was built in the 14th Century as one of the four main entrances into the city. It is currently the only gate in the city that has been preserved after all these years.

We kept on walking and stopped at the Main Square, which was used for executions during the Habsburg monarchy in front of the old Town Hall. There is a statue of a “Watching Soldier,” and it is said that this soldier from Napoleon’s army came into town and found a beautiful woman, but somehow lost her. So he continues to stay right where he is, with hopes of finding her again. The public fountain in the Square has been around since the 1500’s. We then came across an old-looking measurement stick and butcher’s knife which were both used by the government during the Habsburg monarchy. The government used the stick to check sizes of meat and vegetables to make sure they were good enough to sell in the markets. The butcher’s knife showed the size requirement of the knives to be used during this time period as well. Knives used by butchers couldn’t be any bigger than this hanging knife or else they’d be considered weapons, and the owner would be arrested.

In 1989, the Velvet Revolution was hosted in Bratislava, and it received its name because it was a peaceful revolution where no one died. People went outside with their keys dangling from their hands to make noise, in an attempt to show that they wanted to break away from the communistic regime.

In 1993, the government decided to separate from the Czech Republic, which is when the country became Slovakia. The decision came from the Prime Minister, and some say it was for money and others say it was for power. The idea was thrown around too that Czech likes beer and Slovakia prefers wine, so a separation was destined to happen.

We spotted the former summer place of the Arch Bishop which distinctly had an arch bishop hat atop the building. As we continued with the tour, we spotted a peace treaty between the Habsburg Monarchy and Napoleon/France from the 1800’s. We then passed a statue of St. George successfully fighting a dragon. On the street, we came across a statue sticking out of the sewer which has been there since 1997. It is said that he is smiling because he gets to watch all of the women walk by. It is good luck to touch his hat and nose, and this happens to be the original statue since it was built first, whereas the one in Russia is actually a copy.

We also walked past the Slovak National Theatre as well as the American Embassy, consisting of two neighboring buildings, making it the largest embassy in Bratislava. I wish we would have had more time to spend in Bratislava because it truly is a beautiful city, but it was time for us to return to Vienna.

Day 1 In Bratislava, Slovakia

Today we had the opportunity to leave Vienna for the day to see Bratislava, which is the capital of Slovakia. It was only two hours by bus from where we were staying in Vienna, so we took advantage of the opportunity.

Upon arriving, one of the first things we noticed was the fact that there is a lot of graffiti art all around the city. It turns out that the city actually designates open walls for locals to graffiti because they want people to express their artistic abilities without being punished for doing so. Therefore, graffiti art is legal in Bratislava, which was definitely unique to hear. We also noticed various columns built throughout the city. During the 17th century, the black plague swept through the city, so these columns were built with the Virgin Mary on top of them for the locals to pray to.

Bratislava is known as the coronation city and the city of the Habsburg monarchy since the 17th Century also consisted of the Turks taking over Budapest and Hungary. For this reason, coronations would take place here, including the coronation of Maria Theresa (who has been mentioned in prior posts). Throughout the city, you can see pictured crowns on the ground, which shows the coronation route.

There used to be a Jewish synagogue where we began our tour (pictured below), but it was taken down in 1967 because a new bridge had to be built for transportation purposes, and was completed in 1972. As we continued walking, we came across a memorial commemorating the Slovakian Jews who were taken to the concentration camps and to Poland since Poland was the closest country to transport them to. The word “Remember” is written on the bottom of the memorial.

As we continued walking, we came across fortification walls from the 13th century. We then spotted a building currently owned by the city that used to be a pharmacy back in the day. On the wall, there is a sign in German, Slovak, and Hungarian which is proof that the Slovaks could speak three languages during the Habsburg monarchy.

Nearby on the Royal Street, we saw a house where the noble Keglević family used to reside. Their daughter wanted to learn how to play the piano, so Beethoven actually came to their palace and taught her how to play.

Moving along, we passed by “Bird Fountain.” Red wine came out of the fountain during coronations, so all of the locals would come to drink from the fountain for free. After they finished drinking, the locals were said to have sung like birds, hence the name Bird Fountain.

Shortly after, we stopped at a building where Mozart played for Maria Theresa when he was only six years old. Following his performance, everyone in attendance clapped, and in his excitement, Mozart jumped on Maria Theresa and hugged her. Those in attendance immediately stopped clapping in shock because Maria Theresa’s own children didn’t even hug her in public, but much to everyone’s surprise, she hugged Mozart back.

Snapshot Challenge Saturday

This week’s challenge is a little late, but better late than never, right? I spent today at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, which I’ll be posting about later this week, but while we were waiting on line to enter the event, I took a picture of the scenery beside us. All it takes is awareness of our surroundings to really appreciate nature’s beauty around us.

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Miami Beach