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Published: August 12th 2005
After exploring the lovely Prague, Brettles and I departed for Wien - the home of the Wiener Snitzel! Although it is reportedly known for other cultural achievements. Sorry if this next historical bit bores you but I just find it all riveting. I've learnt so much about European history since I started traveling. I also spent a while in Vienna so I have much to write.
Vienna has been of huge historical significance since it's inception in 500 BC by the Celts. It has been the seat of two of the greatest European dynasties; The Babenberg(10th-13th centuries) and of course the Habsburgs empire who ruled until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1918. It is important to understand the enormity of what once was Habsburg Empire; it stretched from Switzerland east into the Ukraine, south into the Balkans and north in the Czech Republic. You'll see the Habsburg influence in Czech in my other posts Praha
However by the mid 19th century this huge empire was beginning to collapse; the catalyst of which was the loss of the Austro-Prussian war resulting in the creation of Germany. As a sign of its weakening powers Austria, no
longer able to assert complete control over its member states, agreed to form a dual monarchy with Hungary and thus the creation of the Austria-Hungary Empire. Shortly afterwards the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne not the rock band, caused the empire to declare war on Serbia and as such, set into train the events that caused WWI. After her defeat both Austria and Hungary (more to come on this in my next posting from Budapest) were divided up. This effectively was the creation of the Austrian state.
In 1938 Nazi Germany assassinated the Austrian Chancellor and installed a puppet regime. Shortly after Austria became part of Germany with a popular vote for Anshluss (Union). Once again Austria was plunged into war that resulted in its defeat and occupation until 1955. Subsequently Austria became neutral and was accepted into the EU in 1995 and adopted the Euro in 1999.
In short Vienna was the capital of the biggest European superpower and is a cultural bastion. As such it has attracted and produced many of the world’s greatest musicians, authors and scientists such as Mozart, Strauss (snr & jnr), Kafka and Doppler. It is filled with
Brett & I catching a film
many architecturally exquisite buildings ranging in style from Romanesque, Baroque, Classic to Nouveau. Mind you if you're not careful the whole city will live you & your wallet quite baroque!
Primarily our trip to Vienna was to see Germar who was my best friend in school in Indonesia and whom I haven't seen since, 6 years ago. To be honest I was a little apprehensive - were we still going to get along? Have I sold out and become a capitalist pig (probably)? Was he really as bald as Brett reported (yes)!
But alas within 30 minutes my fears were allayed as we cracked open the beers and got onto it. Just like old times. His flatmates - Flo, Trauti & Veronika - were all very accommodating and cooked for us. Staying in an Austrian household gave me a unique insight into Austrian culture. Also being gratis it also allowed me to stay for longer than I would have otherwise been able to afford... cheers guys!
Probably in part due to it's checkered modern history and being a hotbed of espionage activity during the cold war, Austrian's have obtained the unenviable reputation of being grumpy and unfriendly.
The National Museum
This couldn't be more from the truth really. Within a few minutes of arriving in Vienna - standing completely confused as usual - I was approached by a complete stranger offering to help me. All the people I met were very cool (except a certain persons girlfriend, Germar & Brett will know who I'm talking about) and made me feel welcome.
So after the first night of boozing - in the interest of catching up - we decided to repeat it all again and have a little party, but this time with Karaoke. As I'm sure you can all imagine, being the shy timid person I am, it took a lot of convincing to get me up! pfffftt sure! "Let me sing buffalo soldier!"
The next day Germar decided to take us out to the Danube island. The man-made island splits the Danube into two - the reason for this I'm not quite sure. Anyhow the area is known for its water sports - so we decided to hire a "speedboat" and go for a whip around the river.
Being an able seaman that I am, I warned everyone that things can happen very quickly on the
water. So we jumped in our electric, yes electric, engine powered dingy and set off flat stick - roughly crawling pace when heading upstream and a zippy walking pace when downstream. So after doing the only responsible thing (buying beer) we decided to head up the river.
But almost exactly as I warned things went quickly from leisurely cruise to panic stations.
You see - we were "hooked." At first it wasn't noticeable, but then, amid screams from the other side of the river, we were actually getting reeled in by a fisherman! Hook, Line & Sinker!
How is this possible I hear you ask? Well between the lackluster engine that had less torque than a manual egg beater - and the crazy fisherman who had a line that could hook a two tone whale shark - we stood no chance. The engine completely jammed and we had to wave over another one of the electric "speedboats" to tow us in. We quickly realized that the remainder of the line had also hooked half the seaweed in the Danube. After release our biological anchor we were back up to crawling pace. Finally we accepted the fact that we'd
never make it back by the beginning of 2006 so the other "speedboat" jettisoned us and we called in the big boys with the petrol powered motors.
Now remember how above I just refuted the fact that Austrians are grumpy? Well for the most part this is true, except when they have to save a bunch of useless tourists stuck in the middle of the Danube. So the owner comes FLYING over in his macho petrol powered beast and slams into the side of us - sending my beer all over Brett (or did I throw it just b4 he hit - I can't remember!) - throws a line - grunts- and hammers off at full speed. Back we came to the boat hire place, in full view of EVERYONE on the Danube and in the restaurant. We got out, hung out heads in shame and marched past the throng of onlookers in the restaurant and quickly effected our exit from the area!
So the next day - after losing some of our traveling companions in somewhat suspicious circumstances, we headed out and did the tourist things. Germar proved to be exceptionally knowledgeable about Vienna providing us with
such insight as "That building's used for the president or something, it was built a while ago, so that makes it pretty old" - ha ha ha - sorry had to put that in Germar.
Anyhow we did the ring road which covers a lot of what there is to see in Vienna. We started at Rathaus and then through volksgarten (the peoples garden) to the national museum, past the old Habsburg residence and up to Parliament. At parliament we decided to take a tour which was most excellent. Currently the front facade is under renovation and as such has scared the tourists away; therefore the tour consisted of just us three. The lady who took us through was hugely knowledgeable and also very excited that three such young astute lads were so interested!
Like much of Vienna the parliament suffered a lot of damage during the War. One whole side was completely destroyed and part of the marble hall was as well however the old chamber (its formal name escapes me) remained intact. It is now only used for formal occasions and not day to day use. The building itself was architected by a Dane who modeled
Another autistic wall shot
it on Greek architecture. It was completed in 1918 - just in time to get bombed. Aside from climbing spires, bombed buildings are another common theme throughout this trip.
In the foyer of the building stand all the various Greek gods. We then moved into the awesome marble hall which is used to connect both sides of parliament. Initially its intention was a meeting place for different party factions but it has since been used for formal receptions. It consists of a series of huge pillars - each weighing in excess of 9 tones. These were cut from marble 30kms from the site and transported by hoarse and cart the whole way. Two of these were destroyed in the bombings and subsequently replaced. We then went into the old side of parliament which is truly magnificent. Finally after seeing the uninspiring new parts of parliament we went onto Stephansdom.
Stephandom is one of Vienna's most loved buildings - it was built in the 12th century and subsequently renovated in gothic style during the 13th century. It is closely surrounded by many more recent building and seems almost out of place. Going against the advice of the trusty lonely
Stiegl University brewery
A quick coldie for the road? Why not!
planet and amid renovation work we decided to climb the spires. Yeah - next time I'll take the lonely planets advice. Inside it is huge and contains many exquisite works. I definite must see.
Our next stop - after gobbling down a weinersnitzel - was Kaiserkruft which is the royal crypt. Here a lot of the Hapsburg family, including sisi lay. The work on the coffins is truly magnificent. That ended our day - much exhausted.
A few days later we went to Schonbrunn, the summer palace built in the last 18th century. We didn't go inside but did explore the huge gardens which were magnificent.
That pretty much wrapped up my touristy time in Vienna. Afterwards we went to Budapest and then came back for a while - I kinda got stuck for a bit actually just hanging out. It was awesome fun because of the people. I can't wait to return. A special thanks to Germar, Trauti, Flo & Veronika for being such great hosts.
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