Vienna, home of the Spanish Riding School

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May 15th 2012
Published: June 17th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

We began our tour of Vienna through the local markets, Naschmarkt, the food stalls were amazing! So many colours and smells (some delightful, some not so good as this was the only place in town which was a little unkept and dirty). It is definately a place I will be returning to investigate more thorougly! A quick walk through to the centre of town we stopped at the Opera house with some impressive horses on top and also a circus tent on the top of the building which engages the very young Austrians in music and opera at their own level in the hope they will have a love of music going into adulthood. Honestly the Austrians pulled my heartstrings on this one, as you all know I am passionate about engaging children in music.! The buildings are very impressive and elegant with ornate decoration on just about every surface available. It is the most elaborate of places I have been so far without being ostentacious. We passed an art gallery which housed a major art works from Gustav Klimt (an Austrian artist) which is currently his 100 year celebration so there are posters all over the city and his work is very emotive. We passed a water fountain which was dedicated to neptune and had some cute cherubs providing guardianship. The momument to the murdered jews was also very provoking.

Interestingly, the Austrians are very proud to display the krypt for their loved Royal's called the Kaisergruft which holds the bodies of Prince Matthias and Princess Anna. The most impressive of the structures was the cathedral which is almost continually undergoing restoration, but the inside is very colourful and the stained glass windows are eveey colour of the rainbow which gives a very happy and joyful feeling to the church inside, otherwise it may be little gloomy as it would have been quite dark without it. Austria is famous for two main exports, swarovski and red bull. Red bull surprised me, our guide said they have so much money now the company built their own man made lake and then built their headquarters building in the middle. The staff have to get boats to drive them to their offices, which is ironic, as red bull is supposed to give you wings, so why not fly?! :-)

Our last city sight was the Roman ruins in front of the palace grounds. Nolene and I were super excited about the palace grounds as they are home to the Spanish riding horses! We both had tickets to the morning training session in two days time and we were both really excited to see them in action and find out more about how the school is run. I have included a few photos of the museum quarter also as the buildings were just so impressive. We had a traditional dinner of chicken schnitzel which was almost as big as my head! Follwed by apple strudel for dessert! Yum! History and dinner! A match made in heaven. We retured to the hostel bar for a couple of drinks, a very violent game of spoons and Hefiz, one of the Canadians decided to impress us with some amazing card tricks. Unfortunately our night was cut short due to some very mean person stealing Beckie's camera and iphone. So cruel, but she handled it with a lot of dignity. I was proud of her. We had to be up super early next morning for our wine and bike tour so we all headed off to bed.

I awoke much earlier than I needed to be up so I put my joggers on and went for a jog around the city. I saw no other joggers and the only people up were seedy looking old men who all made comments I didn't understand (they speak German) as I went by so I returned sooner than expected to the hostel. We took a train to a local station, met our guide and then took another train to the river Wien. We got excitedly on our bikes and peddled off along the roads which hugged the river. It was all going swimmingly until my shoelace got caught in the chain and I managed to lock everything up. Not being an experienced cycler I immediately focused on the problem, not the solution and instead of putting my free foot on the ground, I over balanced and fell over onto the side where my foot was completely caught in the bike. Not very clever. Very bruised, very embarassed, very dirty, I managednto pick myself up, dust off and hobble back on the bike. Luckily it was only 4-5 people behind me that saw my stack. More embarassing really as we hadn't even got to the winery yet! Imagine how much worse damage I could do after drinking! Haha

The first winery ended up being my favourite. We tried 4-5 types of wine and ended up buying two bottles between four of us for lunch. Another peddle along the river and we stopped at a cute town for a picnic lunch along the river and cracked out the wine. We had team Australia vs team Canada and ended up coining the term "Austranada". Hefiz grabbed my camera so there a quite a few random shots on my Vienna album that are quite entertaining. I was chief photographer for Beckie now that she had lost her camera so we also got some silly shots of random things. After lunch we met for our chocolate, marmalade and schnapps tasting. It was all delicious, but there was an incident of lost in translation when we came across "rabbit sh*t" chocolate. Haha I skipped that purchase and went for the milk chocolate drops.

The next part of our ride proved interesting as it started to pour with rain, so we huddled in an archway to put on our poncho's before going out to brave the weather. Luckily the vineyards and waterway is such a beautiful and romantic place, because otherwise we would have been miserable. As it was we laughed about as there was really no escape from saturation so we may as well have enjoyed ourselves. We arrived at the second winery wet and bedraggled but looking forward to more wine to allow the alco-blanket to keep us warm. There had been a video crew following us all morning and this was their last stop so we had our wine and chilled out while we all dried out a little.

Then began our 26km ride back to the bike shop and train station, via a quick stop at a children's playground to play on the equipment and play volleyball. Playgrounds are fun at any age and I defy anyone who could have seen "Austranada" and thought younger children would have had more fun. :-) By the time we got back we were all exhausted so we cracked open the other bottle of wine for the trip home on the train (it is legal to drink everywhere in Europe...) and slept or chilled out. In the evening the girls and I got dressed up and went out for dinner at a nice restaurant in Vienna inside the market square.

Next morning Noel's and I headed off very excited to the Royal palace grounds to the Spanish Riding School to see the lipazana horses. We had booked a viewing of the morning exercise set to classical music and also a guided tour of the grounds afterwards. The lines to get in were so long, and we got there 30mins before it officially started! We managed to finally get into the venue and get seats on the second balcony in the centre so we had a great view of everything. It was definately the most impressive riding arena I had ever seen. The arena itself is slightly smaller than the traditional dimensions, but it has extremely ornate sculptures at either end, giant pillars seperating each section and of course, no less than an absolutely massive chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Opulence reins supreme and even without any beautiful horses it is awe inspiring. Of course Noelene and I followed the "take no photos or video rule" which was repeated every 5 minutes over the loud speaker *cough, cough*. It was too amazing to miss a photo opportunity. We didn't have our flash on and every single person in the arena had their camera's secretly clicking away as soon as the security guy walked pass. So we got our best James Bond secret camera action going and each kept an eye out for the 'enemy'. The only not-so-opulent part was the fold up seats we were sitting on. They were just timber, no cushions like the theatre and as soon as you stood up they would fold up. You may wonder why this is necessary to mention? Well Noel's got so involved at one point in the amazing horses and tricks they were practicing that she lent foward to get a better photo and then when she went to sit down again, of course, fell flat on her butt with a crash and a tiny scream. I helped by completely loosing it in a fit of the giggles after checking she was ok and we were almost told of from security for laughing too loud. Our laughter was a beacon for Luke, our friend from the hostel, who immediately identified us in the crowd of 200 people by our giggles. So we shared our story with him and then again dissolved into fits of laughter. We watched the training for about 2 and a half hours before heading off to the gift shop to do some serious damage and purchase things we probably didn't really need! Haha

After a quick lunch on a picnic chair overlooking the Roman ruins and Palace entrance we headed back into the grounds for our guided tour. The guides are not riders but told us all about the training arena outside where they walk the horses which is the biggest equestrian walking machine ever built. We also got a tour of the stables but were not allowed to take photos of the horses, only the tack room. They have different saddles and bridles for each horse, some for practice and others for performance. Each rider has a training period of 3 years and there is an 80% dropout rate. They work with a more advanced rider for only 30mins per day on the lunge for the first year! So basic! I would be champing at the bit (pun intended) to be getting on a horse a lot more than that! Also the trainee riders do not need to be amazingly good riders before they apply to be a part of the Spanish riding school as they take beginners too. However, you do need to be under 5 foot 8 as the lipazana's are short horses. But they will only take you if you have long legs so that you look good on the horse! Crazy rules, but its been working for them for over a hundred years. After the first 3 years as a trainee, riding an experienced horse, you then become an apprentice rider, after doing your first performance on the experienced horse. From this point apprentices school their own horse from its very beginning to the first public performance 6-8 years later! Incredible isn't it! No wonder the dropout rate is so high!

The other interesting thing was the single dark brown horse (looks black, but its actually dark dark brown). Our guide said that the original regal patronage many years ago decided they liked the look of the grey horses so chose to breed only the white horses. That is why the lipazana's are traditionally grey (white). However, every so often there is a regression in the genes and there is a dark brown horse. This is seen as extremely good luck and each riding stable tries to have at least one brown horse in the stable. Vienna currently has two! Also they now allow females into the riding school! We saw a girl in the training session in the morning. Not that I could apply, as I am too tall and I would not cope with only being able to ride for half an hour a day. The pay is not great either, the riders do it for the love of riding, and pride and prestige.

In the afternoon we met with Beckie and headed for the official sachetorte cafe which was quite close to the opera house. Our walk and fork guide had mentioned it as the place to go to try the authentic version of the vienese delicacy. It definately did not disappoint as the whole experience made us feel like members of the high society! It is basically a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot in the middle and cream on the side. Amazing. Our cake even came with an official chocolate seal to prove its authenticity! Delicious. After wandering around town and checking out the tourist shops (everything else was closed to to a public holiday) we headed off to find dinner. Near our hostel we discovered an Italian restaurant which was run by Italians and we got a salad, 2 pastas and a pizza to share between us. It was amazing. We meant to order a bottle of white wine and ended up with red, our German still not quite right apparently but the whole menu was amazing and the wine complimented really well. Beckie tried to order in Italian and then asked the waiter if she was good at speaking Italian....he bluntly replied "no". So she said goodbye in Spanish and we got the giggles as we walked back to our hostel for our final night altogether as I was heading to Grunau in the morning. Pool (played very badly), more wine, dancing and frivolity followed and we also met Robert, a good looking medical student from Germany and his interesting lacoste playing teammates. We all partied and danced till the very early hours and I eventually had a couple hours of sleep before the 8am bus.


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