Marcus is a tall, ruggedly handsome, blue-eyed, blond with a degree in music. When he was a child, he had the opportunity to join the Vienna Boys Choir, but his mother decided that it involved too much time away from home and too little time for play. Since most of the Vienna Choir boys don’t stay in the music profession, he’s glad she made the decision she did.
We boarded the bus and were given an overview of the city as we drove past its many sights (none of these pictures are ours…..it was impossible to do them justice from a moving bus).
The Secession Hall – built in 1898 as the exhibition hall for works by the secessionists, a group of artists who resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists to create their own less traditional art works. Gustav Klimt was a founding member.
Austria’s Parliament – A Neo-Greek building, completed in 1883, fronted by a statue of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom). We were told that Austrians often lament that Athena should be in the building, not outside of it.
The Votive Church – built by Emperor Franz Josef in gratitude to God for saving him from an assassination attempt in 1853. This is what it should look like….right now, its facade is covered by scaffolding bearing a large ad for Coca-Cola…..I’m sure the extra money helps to maintain the building but it sure feels like blatant consumerism.
We finished our bus tour and started our walking tour near the Hotel Sacher…..making a mental note to return for a taste of the famous Sacher Torte.
We stopped in the Albertinaplatz to contemplate the thought-provoking “Monument Against War and Fascism,” built on the site where over 200 people, hiding in a basement air-raid shelter, were buried alive during bombings on March 12, 1945.
Four separate sculptures comprise the monument….. The “Gate of Violence,” made of granite from the Mauthausen concentration camps, is an allegorical representation of the abominations of war….with clubs, gas masks, chained slave laborers and a dying woman giving birth to a future soldier. Past the Gate is a bronze figure of a Jewish man forced to scrub anti-Nazi grafitti from the street. The next sculpture, Orpheus entering the Underworld, is a half-sculpted figure with its head partially buried in the stone…. reminding Austrians of the consequences of not controlling the actions of their government. Lastly is a sculpture, aptly titled “Stone of the Republic,” that commemorates the founding of the Austrian Republic in 1945 with engravings of the Austrian Declaration of Independence and the names of its signatories.
The Loos House (or Looshaus) was designed a built by Adolf Loos in 1911. Known for his modernistic designs devoid of decoration, Loos has been compared to Frank Lloyd Wright. The starkness of the Loos House, in the midst of so many Baroque buildings, created such a controversy that Loos, much against his better judgement, added window boxes for ornamentation.
We entered the Hofburg Palace grounds through the impressive Michaeler Tor gateway. Inside the Tor is a rotunda with entrances to the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School – home of the famous Lipizzan stallions) and the Imperial Apartments (former winter home to the Habsburg emperors).
The Michaeler Tor leads to the In der Berg, the main courtyard of the palace. Entrances to the Hofburg Treasury Museum and to the Imperial Music Chapel, where the Vienna Boys Choir sing, are found in this courtyard.
A covered walkway leads to another courtyard, the Heldenplatz, with the New Palace (Neue Burg) on the left and statues of Prince Eugene of Savoy (who defeated the Turks in the 17th century) and Archduke Charles (who defeated Napoleon in 1809).
Returning to the bus through a covered walkway, we passed the entrance to the stables of the Spanish Riding School and got a glimpse of the riders and their horses…..each rider is assigned a specific horse…..and they’re both trained in this ballet-like style of riding.
We boarded the bus for the quick ride to Stephansplatz. Some of our fellow passengers chose to walk to Mozart’s house with Marcus but, in anticipation of this afternoon’s excursion to the Schönbrun Palace, we decided to give my feet a rest so we stopped at a local coffee shop and ordered Coffee Melange, the Viennese specialty consisting of coffee, steamed milk and foam…..always served with a glass of water. Afterward, we walked around the centerpiece of Stephansplatz…..St Stephan’s Cathedral…..remaining outside since Sunday Mass was underway.
After we rejoined the group, we all headed back to the boat for lunch….Rissole in Forrest mushrooms and cream…..a delicious, creamy, mushroom risotto.
We had just enough time to take a short rest before heading out on our afternoon tour. At 1:30, we were back on the bus headed to the Schönbrun Palace, the summer home of the Habsburg’s…..and current home to another Christmas Market!
First on the agenda was a visit to the Marionette Theater for a short performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” The Marionette Theater was built in 1777 in honor of a visit by the Prince-Archbishop of Trier, Clemens Wenzel of Saxony. Empress Maria-Theresia and her children were said to have been aficionados of these productions.
Although it seemed that a puppet show was a bit childish for a group of adults, the performance was absolutely captivating…..so engrossing that it was hard to believe that the “actors” were less than two feet tall!
Next up was a tour of the Palace…..said to be even more magnificient than Verseilles. Sadly, some of the rooms were undergoing restoration and palace was crowded with visitors. The sheer number of people made it impossible to linger in the rooms and difficult to hear Marcus.
The tour started with the public and private rooms of Franz Joseph and his wife, Elisabeth, and ended with Maria Theresa’s Grand Gallery, where the meeting of John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev took place in 1961.
Thinking we were free of the crowds, we headed down to the Christmas Market in the Palace’s entrance courtyard. The booths, emanating a warm glow as the sun set, were enticing us but, as we tried to wind our way through this picturesque setting, we discovered that the crowds had followed us there.
Feeling like fish swimming against the tide, we worked our way to the exit and to the relative comfort of a park bench and awaited the return of our chariot……which, thankfully arrived early. With everyone on board, we returned to the Amadeus Royal for dinner….Vienna Tafelspitz (boiled beef) with vegetables and horseradish sauce and Kaiserschmarrn (plum ragout) for dessert……tasty, savory, comfort food….perfect for a cold night.
Ah, but the night wasn’t over yet. At 9:15 we were treated to a performance by the Concilium musicum Wien….a four person ensemble playing music of the 18th century using period instruments to play the music in the “manner in which it was originally performed.” It was a most delightful way to end a wonderful day.
Good night, my friends…..Gute Nacht mein freunde