Alpine Adventure- part VII- oops, forgot a day !
Thursday July 21, 2016- Vienna, Austria
We were up early, had breakfast and boarded the bus for a brief City Tour. Gabby, our local guide introduced us to Vienna. The City is laid out in 23 concentric rings. The third ring, or district, had been built atop the ruins of the original city wall. Its center had no buildings higher than four stories in height. Emperor Franz Joseph, in 1860, had dictated this architectural restriction to preserve the medieval character of the city. It is the city of Beethoven, Strauss, Haydn, Mahler and other musical geniuses. The Viennese are acutely aware of and proud of their musical ancestry. It also the City of the mysterious Sigmund Freud and the then novel concept of Psychiatry as a cure for nervous maladies.
Four smaller streams of the Danube flow through the city. The larger portion of the Danube, its river port city, sits outside the central city rings. It is about a twenty-minute bus ride to the city center, for the many visiting cruise ship passengers. The city is heavily treed, with bike paths and pedestrian malls threading throughout its center. There seemed to be flowers gardens just about everywhere. The United Nations has a significant presence here as well, with some 4,500 employees working in Vienna. We skirted the famous Vienna Woods, where we had dined last evening. It is a mainly residential section of the city. Though populated by many expensive homes, Vienna also owns and leases some 220,000 low-income properties to those who qualify for assistance.
Along the opulent expanse of the Ringstrasser, we saw four and five-star hotels, several Foreign Embassies and many of the finer shops, all shaded by towering Lindens. It is a visually attractive boulevard. Near the Stadt Park we enjoyed seeing the Alte Opera House and the many Greco-Roman edifices of the Austrian parliament. An enormous statue of Athena. Greek Godess of wisdom, stands in the plaz in front of the building. The admirable statue is capped off with a golden helmet, that sparkled in the noonday sun. The city had suffered some bomb damage during W.W.II but most of it had been quickly repaired. Vienna is formerly the seat of an empire and it needed to look the part.
We exited the bus here and walked through the downtown center. The enormous University of Vienna, founded in 1635, is centered here. There are also small patches of preserved Roman ruins, open to public inspection. They had been uncovered during various construction projects. Austria had once been the Roman Province of Panonia.
In St. Stephen’s Plaz, we admired the towering “Black Plague Monument,“ entitled “Deo Filio Redemptori.” It consists of an ascending mass of writing figures commemorating the swath of human destruction that malady had caused, the last episode ending only in 1679. It much reminded me of the work of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Viegling, whose Frogner Park statuary collection, in Oslo, is world famous. Finally we came up to the darkened and aging structure of the alt Kirk “St. Stephens.” Construction for it had begun in 1137. Vienna is indeed an old city with temporal shadows everywhere around us. ! Throngs of tourists had gathered here in St. Stephen’s Plaz by 11:30 A.M.
The main body of our group was traveling on to Bratislava this afternoon. Mary and I decided to pass. It would be one too many countries for us. We left our companions and started walking the two-miles trek, along the Ringstrasser, to our hotel. We admired the opulent buildings and wealth on casual display. It was 85 degrees and hot out. We stopped in the nearby Botanical gardens of Prinz Eugen complex and enjoyed some coffee and sparkling water in the early afternoon. The formal gardens here stretch away from us, headed up to the magnificent formal reception Schloss of Prinz Eugen, high of the hill. We thought we would walk up there later. There was also a promising exhibit on display in the lower gardens by famed Austrian painter Gustaf Klimt. For 20 Euros each, we decided to pass on the pleasure.
We literally chilled out for an hour in the air-conditioned bubble of the Savoyen Hotel. Then, we set out to walk through the grounds of the Botanical gardens that lay right behind us. We were joined by another couple from the tour that had also remained behind. We read all of the botanical information on the small signs of the colorful and different flora that grew about us. Then, we sat for a time, in the shade, to enjoy the afternoon, as do many Viennese. A small group of Russian youth asked us if we knew where a certain castle lay in Vienna. I understood most of their request but had no idea where the castle in question lay.
A last spurt of energy drove us upward to the pebbled plaza surrounding Prinz Eugen’s main Reception Hall. The esteemed noblemen had been given the property, by a Thankful Hapsburg Family, after he had fought for the Viennese to drive off Turkish besiegers. It is a four-story, Greek revival beauty, with fanciful statues decorating the roofline. Swarms of tourist were flowing in and out of the Schloss.
It was hot and humid and we were fading in the afternoon heat. A glass of Chianti, with some fruit and cheese platters afforded us a welcome night to read our books and relax, after the long day. Some of our other intrepid passengers were going to take in a concert at the famed Vienna Philharmonic Center this evening. Bless them for their energy. We retired early and got ready for the next leg of our tour.