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Published: March 17th 2018
19th-century painting of St. Stephen's Cathedral, the iconic landmark of downtown Vienna.
The weather since our arrival has been in the 40s and low-50s, with dreary, overcast skies; and we were greeted this morning by a steady rainfall. We had ventured out of the apartment yesterday, to the local grocery store and tabac to buy tickets for use on the trolley and subway systems, but otherwise rested our weary bones. So we decided to brave the elements today, hop on a tram (Straßenbahn) at a nearby stop, and then visit a few of the signature sights within the inner core of Vienna.
While waiting for the tram, I had an opportunity to practice my rusty German language skills with a local resident waiting for the same train. So far, I've been able to make myself understood, which has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise, because it has been almost fifty years since I've attempted to converse in German!
We traveled on the tram along the eastern portion of the so-called Ringstrasse, a series of grand boulevards that circle the inner core, and disembarked very close to the Vienna State Opera on the southern side of the core. There was enough wind and rain to make walking conditions sloppy, but we had
a relatively short distance to traverse before reaching our goal, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, an art museum housing treasures accumulated by the Habsburg Monarchy in a palatial building on the Ringstraße.
The Habsburg Monarchy (or Empire) refers to the countries and provinces that were ruled by various branches of the House of Habsburg between 1521 and 1918. The Monarchy was a composite state composed of territories within and outside the Holy Roman Empire. From 1804 to 1867 the Habsburg Monarchy was formally unified as the Austrian Empire, and from 1867 to 1918 as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Austria-Hungary collapsed under the weight of the unsolved ethnic problems that came to a head with its defeat in World War I. In the peace settlement that followed, significant territories were ceded to Romania and Italy, new republics of Austria (the German-Austrian territories of the hereditary lands) and Hungary (the Magyar core of the old kingdom) were created, and the remainder of the monarchy's territory was shared out among the new states of Poland, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia), and Czechoslovakia.
This museum was opened around 1891, at the same time as the adjacent Natural History Museum, by Habsburg
Emperor Franz Joseph I. The two museums have similar exteriors and face each other across the Maria-Theresien-Platz. The inside of the building is lavishly decorated with marble, stucco ornamentations, gold-leaf, and paintings.
We decided to concentrate on the painting galleries spread over the first floor, where the works of Italian, Spanish, French, and Northern European artists, who painted during the Italian Renaissance period (between 1450-1650), are displayed. Notable paintings by Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Dürer, Rubens, Bruegel and Vermeer are beautifully displayed in large rooms with comfortable couch seating, and accompanied by detailed descriptions in German and English. Dee and I wandered around the galleries for more than 2 hours, admiring the masterpieces and marveling at the gigantic size of many of the canvasses.
By the time we finished our tour at the museum, it was 1:30 in the afternoon, and we were hungry. So we walked back to the Opera, across the street from which sits the famed Hotel Sacher, a five-star hotel founded in 1876. It's particularly well known for the specialty of the house, the Sachertorte, a dense chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam on top, coated in dark chocolate icing on
the top and sides. It is traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream. The Sachertorte was invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich, and is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties.
We also wanted to try another Viennese specialty, the Wienerschnitzel, which is a type of schnitzel (meat that is thinned by pounding with a meat tenderizer, then fried in some kind of oil or fat) made of a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet. Dee ordered the schnitzel, served with boiled parsley potatoes, while I tried the Tafelspitz, boiled beef (looks and tastes much like prime rib) that was served with carrots and potato pancakes. We proceeded to share the dishes between us, and devoured every morsel; then shared a Sachertorte with whipped cream for dessert.
After lunch we walked along the Kärntnerstraße, a broad pedestrian street lined with stores and cafes, whose outside terraces would be very inviting in warmer weather. Despite the cool temperature, there were quite a few people scurrying about, many of whom appeared to be tourists. We soon reached the iconic Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral), which has been a landmark in the center of Vienna for many
The most important religious building in Vienna, this Gothic- and Romanesque-style cathedral has been witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history, and has become one of the city's most recognizable symbols. The real pride and joy of this cathedral may be its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof, which measures 364 feet long, and covered by 230,000 glazed tiles.
Although the first structure was completed in 1160, major reconstruction and expansion lasted until 1511, and repair and restoration projects continue to the present day. Standing at 446 feet tall, and referred to by the city's inhabitants as "Steffl" (a diminutive form of "Stephen"), the cathedral's massive south tower is its highest point, and a prominent feature of the Vienna skyline. The construction of this tower alone lasted 65 years, from 1368 to 1433.
We entered the cathedral, but were disappointed at the poor lighting conditions. With very little artificial illumination, and no sunlight filtering in through the many stained glass windows, the interior is almost as dark as a dungeon, so the photos of the nave, altar and the magnificent pulpit used in today's entry were taken from Wikipedia. Still, the sheer size of
the structure made quite an impression as we walked around, as did the exterior facades and towers when we made a circuit around the perimeter of the cathedral.
By this point, it was almost 4:30 PM, so we walked a few blocks from the cathedral to the tram line that we'd ridden this morning. A bit of confusion, however, as I mistakenly had us disembark several stops before ours (due to a confusion with similar names of the stops), so we got a little more exercise than planned! The weather forecast for tomorrow calls for snow flurries with temperatures in the 30s...we miss Florida!
Dee's comments: Today was an impressive day! The tram was a good ride, despite the rain, and I was impressed with Mitch for speaking German with the locals, who seem to understand him. He held a 10-minute conversation while waiting for the tram with a man who moved to Austria from Egypt 25-years-ago.
We entered the city, and how different Vienna looks; a lovely place, with many stately buildings and monuments. Spent over 2 hours exploring the very impressive art museum; then had lunch at the place where Mitch had eaten almost 50
Theseus defeats the centaur
This statue, by Antonio Canova, is perched at the top of the main staircase in the museum.
years ago (when he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army); great food and presentation.
Walked into the center of town; more puffy coats, with women wearing hats and scarves. I hate being bundled-up, but even I wore gloves today! Now you know I'm pretty tough, but we got off the tram at the wrong stop, and had to walk many extra blocks while wearing the boot on my foot (with the bad toe screaming at me)!
Finally reached the grocery store a couple blocks from the apartment, where we stopped for a few items. Stay tuned, as we are expecting snow tomorrow, so you could say we are on a "Winter Odyssey" this year; soon I'll be donning my tights to keep warm!
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