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.

Day 1 In Austria, Vienna Continuation

Vienna has 1.8 million inhabitants, and the second largest has a little over 200,000 which shows just how populated Vienna is. And in case you were wondering, Salzburg, famous for being the location where The Sound of Music was filmed has around 150,000 people residing there. Because it got confusing trying to figure out what location the different flags in the city belonged to, the Austrian flag is red, white, and red, whereas the flag of Vienna is solely red and white.

As we continued our bus tour of Vienna, we came across the city’s former military barracks, which is currently the ministry of defense, with a statue honoring Franz Josef right in front. Between 1860-1900 Franz Josef put the entire city of Vienna under reconstruction, with hopes of making the city more appealing.

Before getting off the bus, we passed by the Augustinian Church, originally built in the 14th century, and known to have hosted many weddings in the Habsburg family. As we got off the bus, we continued our tour of the city on foot, and stopped at the Hofburg Palace, which belonged to the Habsburg family and took 600 years to build. The statue in front of the Hofburg Palace commemorates the oldest Habsburg son, Prince Eugene of Savoy who was one of Europe’s most successful military commanders.

On site is where you can also find The Spanish Riding School (founded by Marie Theresa’s father), that has been training horses for 450 years. It takes between six to eight years to prepare the horses to become stallions for shows. I was nervous taking pictures since we weren’t allowed to, so hopefully that explains why the pictures look the way they do.

In 1989, the pavement in front of the Hofburg Palace had to be renovated, and surprisingly enough, Roman ruins were discovered. One-third of the ruins have been preserved and are visible to the public, but the other two-thirds have been covered up again.

As mentioned earlier, it took hundreds of years to complete the building of this Palace, and the reason being was because at times, money was scarce to continue the project, so there wasn’t a big rush to complete the construction. In 1913, construction had been completed (or at least as completed as it is today). At the time, the Habsburgs had plans to continue construction, but shortly after, World War I broke out, and the imperial family needed the money to deal with the situation at hand. And in 1918, the Habsburg monarchy came to an end, which was the end of a monarchy that has been in power since the late 1200’s!

The red building pictured below used to be drawbridge with a moat around it. It was the first building on the grounds and belonged to the court. The square of the first building currently belongs to government officials. You will also see a balcony pictured, which belonged to Franz Josef, and the sundial belonged to his wife Sissi.

So we’re all clear here… The Hofburg Palace was only a winter home to the Habsburgs… Schönbrunn Palace (discussed and pictured in a prior post) was their summer home. That’s a total of 3,841 rooms, so imagine, you could spend one night in each room, and that would take you over ten years to do!

Currently, the Hofburg Palace is home to the Austrian National Library as well as an arms museum. There are 2,400 rooms, all owned by the state, and each room is still in use today. The residence and office of the Austrian President is also located in the Palace, as well as an important congress center.

After touring the Hofburg Palace, we walked through the Naschmarkt, which is the largest outdoor market in Vienna. Nosh in Yiddish and German both mean “to eat a snack or light meal,” so if you couldn’t tell, the market was filled with all kinds of food, snacks, vegetables, meats, and restaurants. We also noticed that the Vienna Opera House was closed off, and that’s because Mission Impossible Five was actually filming while we were there!

We stopped in a local cafe, and ordered an iced coffee which came with ice cream and whipped cream inside, in addition to an apple strudel on the side. By the time we walked back to our hotel, we were hungry again (which I guess is okay since we were on vacation). We went to a local restaurant and ordered traditional Austrian food, chicken schnitzel (which is breaded chicken) and a beer on the side (which again is okay thanks to being on vacation)!

Day 1 In Vienna, Austria Continued

After our morning tour of Vienna, we drove around the city and continued our tour by bus. In 1898, a new art movement called Art Nouveau gained popularity, as its aim was to modernize design. Two of the first buildings in the city to be designed based off Art Nouveau can be seen pictured below. Green, white, and golden ornaments tended to be some of the more popular designs of this movement. And as you can see with the apartment buildings having been the first to undergo this movement, it is because 82 percent of the Viennese population live in apartments, so these buildings play an important role in the city.

The next building pictured below is also one from the Art Nouveau movement that is nicknamed the Golden Cabbage Head of Vienna. At first, people didn’t like Art Nouveau because it was so new and there was a conflict of the generations, so this nickname came about to spite the movement.  You can see how this movement began to sweep the city, by the coffee-house and subway, both in art nouveau style.

The red building is actually the home of Vienna’s Philharmonic where the Vienna New Year Concert takes place each year. Rumor has it that the concert originally began by the Nazi’s soldiers, but the concert has still survived after World War II. The New Year’s concert has been gaining a lot of popularity, with this year’s concert having been broadcast in over 90 countries worldwide and seen by 50 million people on television. When then passed by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, which is an art school of higher education. You can tell just how important the arts are in this city.

We quickly passed by Cafe Landtmann, which was Sigmund Freud’s favorite cafe, where he would go to study and work. As we continued driving, we passed Votivkirche, also known as the Votive Church Vienna, which took over twenty years to build. The city spends close to 30,000 euros to clean the building with a laser system, so you can bet that some of their prayers include praying for the building to stay clean. While passing the Votive Church, we came across St. Rupert’s Church which is arguably the oldest building in Vienna, dating back to 740. As you can see, the history in Vienna is truly remarkable.

Day 1 In Vienna, Austria

Today was our first day in Vienna, and the first stop in our morning city tour was to the Schönbrunn Palace, roughly translating to the palace of the beautiful fountain. All of the property was destroyed by the Turks but the Habsburg family began the property’s reconstruction in the 18th century (although the property itself belonged to the Habsburg family since the 16th century). It took sixty years to rebuild, and the project was started by the grandfather. He passed the project over to his son after a few years, and his son continued the construction. He then stopped years later as well, and his daughter, Maria Theresa finished the construction. Her father founded the Spanish Riding Center, which will be discussed in a later post, but Marie was 23 when she took over the reign of Austria. Her father had died suddenly, leaving only her and her sister behind. Nobody thought Maria Theresa would be an efficient leader since she was not prepared for such responsibility, but she ended up exceeding expectations.

Maria Theresa had 16 children in total, although some ended up dying at a young age. One passed away at childbirth and a few others during childhood due to smallpox. One of her children was Marie Antoinette, and her other children ended up residing all over Europe. Her granddaughter even ended up marrying Napoleon Bonaparte, so you can tell they were a very influential family, to say the least.

The Schönbrunn Palace has 1441 rooms all together. This particular palace was just a summer home, because clearly 1441 rooms aren’t enough for winter, spring, or fall. Another Habsburg Palace can be found elsewhere in Vienna, which will also be discussed in a later post, but all Habsburg homes were confiscated in 1918 once monarchy ended. The State took over the Schönbrunn Palace and in 1992, two investors took over the palace and renovated its original state, and reopened the palace to the public in 1996. Shortly thereafter, the Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with over 2.7 million visitors a year, which is nearly six or seven thousand people per day!

Tiergarten Schönbrunn, which is the world’s first zoo, established in 1752 can be found behind the property as well, in addition to the beautiful Gardens of Schönbrunn. An interesting and miraculous fact is that with over 200 bombs having been dropped in Vienna during World War II, only one hit the palace. Ironically enough, the bomb hit the ceiling containing a picture of a war, but luckily, the bomb didn’t destroy it!

You can’t take pictures inside of the palace, so three of the pictures I’ve included below were taken from the following link, as were their descriptions (if you click on each individual picture). And if you’re interested in seeing more of the palace’s interior, feel free to click on the link below!

http://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/wissenswertes/das-schloss/rundgang-durchs-schloss.html

Last Day In Budapest and Night 1 In Vienna, Austria

Before leaving Budapest, we stopped off at Nagy Vasarcsarnok, also known as the Central Market Hall. On the first floor, you can find all kinds of foods, snacks, treats, vegetables, meats, and of course, paprika, the most important spice in Budapest. Clearly Budapest knows its target market too, because the entire second floor is dedicated to tourists, seeing as it’s filled with souvenir shops. Throughout our trip in Budapest, our tour guide told us that Vienna likes to brag about having the best strudel known to man. She mentioned that in Budapest, you can find all kinds of strudel that Vienna can’t even compare to. We had to put the strudel tasting to the test before heading to Vienna, so when we came across a strudel shop in the market, we naturally bought as many different flavors as possible. We bought an apricot-curd cheese strudel, a pumpkin-poppy seed one, a sour cherry-apple one, and a cabbage one too. As surprising as it was, the cabbage strudel was delicious and far exceeded our expectations. Vienna was going to have tough competition in this strudel taste-test.

Upon leaving Budapest, we passed a memorial for the 1956 Revolution, which remembers the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 that played a big role in the Soviet Union’s downfall years later.

Before arriving to our hotel in Vienna, Austria, we passed the Vienna Parliament Building. There is a statue of Pallas Athena in the front of the Parliament House, which is the goddess of wisdom. The running joke is that the only wisdom on the property is just the statue and not the people inside.

When we stopped off at our hotel, we had some downtime to settle into our hotel and change, before our evening excursion. Our excursion was a viewing of the “City of Music” show which featured the classical masterpieces of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss, two of Vienna’s most famous citizens. Mozart was a child prodigy who blossomed into one of history’s greatest composers and Strauss, also known as the Waltz King, composed the Blue Danube, which is the world’s most famous waltz.

Our group sat in the very first row of a small theatre, and to be quite honest, my sister and I thought we would end up falling asleep right in front of the orchestra. However, the music was incredible, and there were opera singers and dancers accompanying each song. There was something special about being in Vienna and hearing the beautiful sounds of Mozart and Strauss. And while I thought maybe the free champagne we received was what made it special, I have to say, listening to such intricate music and knowing that it had originated where we were sitting really made the experience that much more incredible. (But the free champagne definitely helped too!)