Odyssey 2018 - Imperial opulence, Baroque splendor, and chilling reminders from the past

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March 19th 2018
Published: March 20th 2018
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The figure of a Jew washing the street (or sidewalks) recalls the numerous humiliations to which Austrian Jews were exposed from 1938 onwards by (mostly) National Socialist Austrian fanatics and their anti-Semitic followers.
The weather has been so cold in Vienna since our arrival that we hibernated in our warm and cozy apartment this past weekend. On Sunday, we awoke to find a dusting of snow covering our back patio, and this morning the temperature was a frigid 23 degrees Fahrenheit!

Our thin Florida blood is having a difficult time coping with these conditions, and neither of us can remember when we last experienced sub-freezing temperatures. But we decided to bite the bullet today, dressed as warmly as we could, and at 10:00 AM walked to the nearby tram station for a ride into the Old City to visit the Hofburg, the former residence of the Habsburg monarchy.

With our teeth chattering, and shivering from head to toe, we arrived at the Albertina Platz, a small square near the Hofburg. In the middle of the square sits a large sculpture, the Monument against War and Fascism, that was unveiled in 1988 to preserve the memory of the darkest era in Austrian history.

The two parts of the controversial "Gate of Violence", which is dedicated to all victims of war and fascism, represent the occupants of Mauthausen Concentration Camp who were forced to carry huge blocks of granite from the quarry in the camp up the steep 'Stairs of Death’. The ensemble of twisted figures on the right is dedicated to all victims of war.

Looking through the 'Gate of Violence' you see the bronze figure of a kneeling Jew washing the street of slogans, a chilling reminder of the degradation and humiliation the Jews suffered in 1938 at the hands of anti-Semitic fanatics in Austria. From the Albertina Platz it was a short, but shivering, walk to reach the entry of the Hofburg at the Michaelerplatz.

The Hofburg is the former imperial palace in the center of Vienna. Built in the 13th-century and expanded in the centuries since, the palace has been the seat of power of the Habsburg monarchy, and today the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. It was the principal imperial winter residence, while Schönbrunn Palace (just outside of Vienna) was the summer residence.

For over 600 years the Vienna Hofburg was the residence of the Austrian sovereigns. Over the course of the centuries it developed into one of the most important centers of European history. It was from here that the Habsburgs reigned from 1279, at first as rulers of the Austrian patrimonial lands, from 1452 as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, and finally as emperors of Austria from 1806 until the end of the monarchy in 1918.

Our plan was to visit the sumptuous Imperial apartments, as well as the Sisi Museum, dedicated to the memory of Emperor Franz Joseph's wife, Empress Elisabeth (nicknamed "Sisi" from childhood), who became somewhat of a cult figure following her assassination in 1898.

She married the emperor at the age of 16, and throughout her life was obsessively concerned with maintaining her youthful figure and beauty; her ladies-in-waiting reportedly spent 2-3 hours each day taking care of her floor-length hair! As we toured her rooms and mementoes, it became apparent that she was a bit eccentric, narcissistic, and likely suffered from emotional problems arising from an unsatisfying marriage, as well as the deaths of two of her four children.

Our self-guided tour continued through some impressive displays of porcelain and royal tableware, then into various imperial apartments and chambers, including formal waiting and audience rooms, grand salons and the exquisite dining room. The opulence of the palace is reminiscent of Versailles, and we could only imagine how the privileged lives of the Habsburg royalty compared with the masses they ruled. Ultimately, however, this way of life collapsed, as did the reign of other monarchies throughout Europe.

After 2 hours, we exited the rear of the Hofburg onto a side street, where we chanced upon the Kanzleramt, a cozy little restaurant that must cater to the many government personnel who work in the vicinity. It felt good to sit down and relax in a warm place for awhile! Our young waiter and waitress were very personable, and we enjoyed our meals of soup, Viennese pork roast, and salad. We lingered awhile, over strudel and espresso, before facing the biting cold again!

After lunch, we back-tracked to the Michaelerplatz, where we visited the Michaelerkirche (St. Michael's Church) directly across the square from the Hofburg. This Baroque jewel is gorgeous inside, where we were impressed by the ornate altar, as well as by several works of contemporary art on display. Then, after a short walk along the Kohlmarkt, a ritzy shopping street filled with the likes of Gucci, Dior and Louis Vuitton, we bought some candy at Demel, the famous pastry shop and chocolaterie established in 1786.

We soon reached another Baroque gem, the Peterskirche (St. Peters Church), in time for its daily organ concert at 3 PM. The benches were nearly full when we arrived, but we were able to find seats, and then enjoyed listening to the organ music for about 20 minutes. The ornate altar and decorations of this beautiful church may be even more impressive than the Michaelerkirche we had just visited.

A short distance away from the Peterskirche, on the Graben, we passed by the so-called Plague Column (German: Pestsäule), erected at the behest of Emperor Leopold I after the Great Plague epidemic in 1679. This Baroque memorial, which was inaugurated in 1693, is one of the most well-known and prominent sculptural pieces of art in the city.

As we turned onto the Kärntner Straße, and headed for the tram stop near the Opera, Dee finally broke down and purchased a sock hat to keep her ears warm. After shivering throughout the day, we were more than happy to return to the warmth of our apartment!

Dee's comments: Snow, snow go away; we want to go out and play! Who would have predicted this; we don't have the proper coats, shoes, and today I had to buy a hat because my ears were freezing! Tram ride was great, then a chilly walk to the Hofburg, a very interesting place. Loved the history of Sisi (I'll be looking to do some reading about her).

Stopped for lunch at another 5-star restaurant, again eating too much food. Then two beautiful churches (one with organ concert), a famous chocolate emporium where we bought some overpriced candy. Couldn't wait for the tram ride back home...so cold walking around. A nice warm apartment and a drink helped!

Wishing I had a "puffy coat", wish it wasn't snowing. Forgot to share that the apartment building shuts down the heat between 11PM and 7AM, but the radiant heat from the floor keeps things comfortable, except for the bathroom (which is like an icebox in the morning). Again, I'm proud of myself in dealing with a Barbie-sized kitchen, making meals in a large skittle; cooking is a challenge with few spices with which to work.

Travel is an adventure...well, I must say this year's odyssey has been challenging. Everything has been wonderful, the sights, people, customs, and the apartments. We didn't plan for this kind of weather, but we must "soldier on"!

Additional photos below
Photos: 37, Displayed: 26


20th March 2018

I can’t believe what a winter you guys have encountered. I am proud of you for not letting it stop you from exploring and when you do explore you hit it full force. I want to learn more about Sisi too, she sounds fascinating. The chocolate shop looked delicious and I would had a hard time leaving. Seeing the horse and carriage outside the beautiful white building reminds me of a scene from the movie Oliver. Enjoying the blog so much. 💚💚💚💚💚
20th March 2018

What a handsome waiter!! Looked like another great day but a bit frigid. Another scrumptious meal. It is a Winter Odyssey. I didn't see a snow angel. HAHA
21st March 2018

Cold days on vacation beat being home anyday!!! Glad to hear you guys are making the most of it. I love all the pics!!!!
23rd March 2018

So glad that the weather didn't keep you down yet another day. The photos I am sure do not hold justice to such sights!! Dee you tickle me silly, always having the men memorized in you presence... always a lady :) ps... florida has been chilly as well....
23rd March 2018
Monument against War and Fascism

Such Sadness, but such beauty of memorial... History needs to be reflected upon and always reminded of how and why we are today.... thanks for sharing such a heartbreaking sight,,,,

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