We stayed in an apartment in Vienna (Wien – Did you know Wiener just means someone or something from Vienna? How did I never know that? It doesn’t seem quite so snicker-worthy now…actually, yes it does.) from December 19-22, having taken a taxi there from Budapest. We liked it, but in hindsight I would have allocated one of those days to Salzburg which, being next to the Alps, is prettier and more charming. We had seen so many castles and rivers and beautiful buildings that Vienna was just more of the same. I know that sounds terribly spoiled of me, but after a while, the places start to look alike.
On December 20, we walked a mile to Old Town and saw the enormous Imperial palace where the Spanish Riding School and Lippizaner Stallions are. A few weeks before, I had read a bit about the show; but most people said it was not what they expected – that the horses were essentially just being exercised. So no horse show for us, but we did get stopped by a young man in 18th-century garb who asked if we wanted to attend a concert of classical music, including Mozart pieces, that would also include ballet and ballroom dancing and opera singing. The concert is held in the very room where six-year-old Mozart, his sister, and their father had performed for the royal family. We bought the tickets and went that night. It was cheesy, as the online reviewers had said, but we were in the land of Mozart; and these were the tickets that were available. We walked around the Christmas Market for a few minutes that afternoon. For some reason before we embarked on our European adventure, I imagined Europe as begin immune to the proliferation of ubiquitous, Chinese-made goods we have in the US. Europeans are smarter than Americans, aren’t they? They appreciate quality and still have craftsmen and artisans, right? To some extent, but it’s not on display at the Christmas markets. Throngs of people push and shove each other. When you finally get up to a booth, you realize there’s nothing there worth buying anyway. I guess that was good news for my wallet, but disappointing nonetheless. We ate lunch in a cafe that’s part of the castle complex and then spent a couple hours touring the Sisi Museum – the portion of the palace where the public can see the vast collection of silver, porcelain, and fancy China dishes that the royal family used as well as some of the rooms used by Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” who was stabbed to death while on a trip to Geneva in 1898. The museum talked about her mystique and showed clips of movies that had been made about her. I had never heard of her and was reminded again of the poor quality of my education. Her husband Franz Joseph was one of the last of the Habsburgs to rule Austria where a Habsburg had been on the throne since 1276 (and his butt was sore).
The next day we walked to Augarten, a large, lovely, nearby park that had been the hunting grounds for some past royal member. I guess that’s the case with most European parks. The hoi polloi didn’t get to enjoy nature within the city until they overthrew the monarchy and took over the grounds for themselves. There are two, large concrete monstrosities there that I couldn’t imagine what they had been used for. I found this description on cracked.com:
Flakturm VII G is one of several flak towers constructed by Hitler (literally — he personally took part in designing them) in 1942 to act as combined bomb shelters and anti-aircraft battlements against the Allied forces — a job they carried out so well that when the Soviets later tried to demolish them in peacetime, their explosives only hurt the surrounding buildings. That’s probably because the flak tower’s walls are 15-feet-thick reinforced concrete. It was built to house up to 2,000 people, and its original firepower was, in scientific terms, totally ball-slapping insane. Also, the tower was and, with slight renovations, could easily still be totally autonomous, with its own electricity, air and water supply systems.
After leaving here, the kids walked to Prater amusement park where they went on a ferris wheel that is supposedly world-famous. Laurel said they waited in a long line and then only went around once since the wheel stopped at every car to let people on and off – never just moving freely. That made me sad. Laurel took this picture from the ferris wheel looking down. She says it’s a Coca-Cola truck towards the top of the picture that people were inexplicably gathering around at this amusement park’s Christmas market.
So that’s our Vienna story. On the 22nd we took a train to Salzburg where we spent only one night. I’ve already blogged about our afternoon and evening there but will add another blog post to detail our morning and early afternoon there the next day before we went to the train station to start our 8 1/2-hour trip back to Paris.