A little history if you please. Austria was the epicenter of the mighty Hapsburg empire that for 6 centuries used strategic marriages, not conquests, to maintain their hold over much of central and eastern Europe. However, the country was subject to military threat by the Ottoman in the 1600’s, then defeated by Napoleon in 1805, and suffered the Prussian war in 1866
WWI started after the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand (a Hapsburg), and being on the losing side of the war, it was the ultimate end of the dynasty. Austria was occupied by the Nazis. Austria and Vienna were heavily bombed during WWII, but recovered well and display the beauty of the Baroque style of architecture favored by the Hapsburg monarchy. Among the most amazing Baroque highlights that we saw were in Vienna and Salzburg.
Vienna is beautiful. The palaces and museums that the Hapsburg's built are just amazing. Concentrated in the “ Innere Stadt 1” aka Old Town, are some, but not all, of the most impressive buildings. We and the kids started our exploration by first walking several blocks from the 2 bedroom Airbnb to shop at a local outdoor market haggling and purchasing pastas, cheeses, olives, and bread.
Later, we jump on the Tram that circles old town on the “Ringstrasse” route. Starting and ending at the 19th century Opera House, from the tram and with a little help from the audio tour Janet downloaded we get a great sense of where all the most important exhibits can be found for future return. For example, we observe the neo-Gothic City Hall, the Greek-revival Parliament, the Museum of Fine Art, and the Hapsburg Palace. We would also like to extend a thanks to the young lady who voluntarily spoke up and told us we needed Tram # 2A, not Tram #2B. The palatial home of the Hapsburgs is called the “Hofburg”. We exited the tram there and walked through the surrounding park planning our return route and stopped at a large “state of the art” pizza joint, where the menu and ordering is computerized. Slick!
The next morning we started our action packed day with another self-walking tour using a downloaded audio tour. We visited St. Stephens Cathedral, with its dazzling tile roof and high spires. The stone pulpit and baroque high alter are striking. We walked the streets, popping into a church here and there and stopped for some odd little open face sandwiches recommended by our audio guide. At the end of the route we stopped for Vienna's famous cakes. You order from a display and they bring them to your lovely little table. See some great photos
Our cake shop was in front of the Hofburg Palace complex. What a beautiful site
Then we visit the enormous Museum of Fine Arts, aka “Kunsthistorisches” Museums. There are 2 beautiful identical building directly across a plaza which houses Anthropological and historic relics. We chose to see classic works of art, including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, and Caravaggio. The entry way and foyer of this multi floor building is just spectacular. We thought the Sculpture Museum building in Berlin was grand, but this was its match or more. We ended our day at the Imperial Treasury. We had a very informative guide, but the subject matter was just too dry, and we felt exhausted. We returned home for a self prepared meal from the goodies we bought in the market. We also started to watch ½ of“Sound of Music” to get ready for our future day Trip to Salzburg. Teddy and Staci are good sports to watch a 1965 movie musical.
It is Easter Sunday. Another day another palace. We take the train to the Hapsburg’s summer Schloss Beleverde Palace for the day. It is considered one of the world’s finest Baroque styled Palace designed by Johann Hildebrandt. It is a masterpiece of art and decoration, with richly frescoed state apartments. The manicured gardens, sculptured fountains and semi-curved Colonnade are equally regal. We were smart to arrive in the early morning; as we returned to the train station to leave we avoided the crowds and still had time for afternoon sightseeing.
Always on the move and ready for action, we returned to Vienna proper and pushed on to see the Opera house and the “Hofburg” Imperial Palace, the home base of the Hapsburgs from 1273 to 1918.
This palace exhibition includes the royal dishes, boring after the 20th set, the furnished Kaiser Apartments, once occupied by Franz Josef I, a popular ruler, and his beauty obsessed Empress Elizabeth, nicknamed “Sisi”. The dwelling is splendid, maybe not Louis XIV level, but grand. There is a separate “Sisi Museum” which presents an audio tour biography of Sisi, referencing her letters, as well as displays of gowns and personal items. Surprisingly, the exhibit portrays a rather negative image; she is a celebrity but not pumped up like a rock star. Fascinating, but a missed meteoric marketing campaign or just unvarnished truth? Finally we visit the Imperial Treasury which displays Crown Jewels and the 2860-carat Columbia emerald and alleged thorn from Christ’s crown.
We returned home for a wonderful Easter dinner prepared by Janet and Staci. That night we finished watching “Sound of Music”. Enjoyable, and Staci was humming the tunes all the next day.
The next day it snowed in Salzburg. Teddy and Staci will tell you about the trip. On our last day we cruised down the Danube River to Bratislava, Slovakia. Teddy and Staci planned the trip and will tell you about that too.