Trip Start May 10, 2008
18Trip End Jun 15, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
At Vienna's Westbahnhof we indulged ourselves by taking a taxi to our hotel rather than a tram (which would have called for a long walk). Pension Suzanne was on the first floor of a building in the old town, only a block away from the State Opera. We deposited our bags and set out for a preliminary exploration of the town centre.
The walking tour I had obtained from the internet back home was not very good, concentrating as it did on antique shops and other sights of little interest. The early signs of senility which had manifested themselves in Salzburg returned again in the middle of Vienna. I was convinced that I had lost my pipe until I found it deep in the bowels of my camera bag. A little later I made to unlock the door of our room but found that the key was not in my pocket. I was instantly soaked in perspiration. How could I tell Margaret that I had lost our keys? I had forgotten that I had given them to her earlier in the day for safekeeping.
As is my custom I set out to find a supermarket to replenish my supply of peppermints and to buy a carton of chocolate milk. The walk around the block passed without incident though I regretted not having brought my camera when I stumbled upon the Opera Toilets in the subway. The glitzy brass and marble water closet proclaimed proudly that one could listen to La Traviata (an opera, I presume) while taking a pee. How sophisticated!
Vienna was the most expensive city we had encountered, at least when it came to food. We ate at an Italian restaurant round the corner from our hotel and, for the price we paid, expected large servings.
Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral) in the centre of the old town was having a light show in the evening during which, we learned, angels would appear. We entered the enormous gothic building to find very modernistic sails attached to the pillars upon which the faces of people were projected. Margaret spoke to the "light sculptor" himself who told her that we could all be one another's angel by helping our neighbours in times of trouble. I was very moved by the deep spiritual truth of this revelation, though it didn't stop me telling the beggar woman outside the church that she should get a job.
We ended the night with coffee at the restaurant across the road from our hotel. I was just about to light my pipe when the waiter (perhaps the head waiter) pointed to it and said "Missa, no pipe". I was quietly furious as the people at nearby tables were smoking like chimneys. Anti-pipe prejudice! Margaret began to give him a severe tongue lashing, but I asked her to desist. I don't think the unpleasant Teuton understood a word of English. We never returned.
DAY 26 WED At breakfast we shared a table with a couple of Americans who, in the course of our conversation, told us of their visit to an interesting church not all that far away. We were planning to have a fairly relaxing day so we strolled in a leisurely fashion through Resselpark to the edge of the old city in search of Karlskirche (St Charles' Church).
Karlskirche, built in the early eighteenth century by Charles VI just as the plague was coming to an end, was quite impressive on the outside due in large part to the two columns (based on Trajan's Column) which dominate the facade
Whilst the extensive scaffolding rather spoiled the beauty of the interior, the lift which had been installed for the restorers enabled us to rise almost to the cupola. A further few flights of rather rickety temporary stairs allowed us to climb to the very top. Margaret turned back, overcome by the vertiginous view over the edge and the fact that the stairs swayed a little. I reached the top and got a close up view of the highest point of the church.
The price of admission included a visit to the church museum which was of interest to me for its small collection of relics, including a fragment of the true cross housed in a golden ornament. Just before we entered the museum we were struck by an enormous canvas. Painted entirely in lime green and featureless apart from an apparently deliberate paint run in the top left hand corner, this modernistic work was titled "Tabla Rasa", which means blank slate. I suspect that the good monks paid a significant sum for this masterpiece
From the Karlskirche we walked back into town to visit the Albertina, home to the greatest collection of graphic art in the world. At the time of our visit there were three separate exhibitions available. The first featured the paintings of Kokoschka, an artist of whom we had never heard. I didn't like his work, but Margaret became a convert by the time we reached his last painting. The second featured Monet and Picasso. I liked Monet (though I wouldn't buy one of his paintings) but was unmoved by Picasso. The third exhibition was devoted to Paul Klee, who I felt should have stuck to his day job. What a plebeian I am! The only works in the gallery which truly impressed me were half a dozen studies of the male body by Michelangelo.
By the time we emerged from the Albertina it was time for Margaret to have a rest. The previous day she had bought a ticket to an opera by Verdi at the State Opera House which was to commence at half past six. By some unforgivable oversight she had neglected to buy me a ticket, a cause of much angst on my part. I left her to rest and returned to the streets in search of music shops.
My solo adventure took me several kilometres out of the old town and into modern Vienna. I found the shop I was seeking (Saturn) but became hopelessly lost when I emerged from a different entrance into an unfamiliar street. I eventually found my way back to the hotel, thanks more to the assistance of a shopkeeper and a couple of policemen than my once-vaunted sense of direction.
In the evening I escorted Margaret to the State Opera where she was to experience an opera by Verdi. I deposited her at the entrance then walked back to the hotel for my evening beer. Once darkness had fallen I set off to explore old Vienna by night. The streets were as busy as they had been during the day but the buildings were now aglow with golden light. I returned to the State Opera at the appropriate hour to pick up my spouse. Opera finishing time came and went but no one emerged from the building. I made several circuits of the block but all was quiet. With a rising sense of panic I began to fear that I had misheard Margaret when she told me where the opera was being performed. What if it was in a different opera house at the other end of town? My relief knew no bounds when the doors burst open and Margaret and the rest of the audience poured into the square.
DAY 27 THU A very quiet, rainy day. I walked the entire length of Mariahilfer Strasse , the main shopping street of Vienna. This was where the ordinary Viennese shopped and was almost devoid of tourists. It was not terribly interesting, seeming to be much the same as any city anywhere. I moved with great rapidity, returning to Margaret hot and exhausted.
In the afternoon we walked down to the Danube. Much to our surprise and disgust the walls bordering the river were covered in graffiti. Not at all like the Seine. There was a potentially interesting little church in the Jewish area we would liked to have visited but it failed to open at the hour specified. We spent the rest of the afternoon vegetating in our room, leaving it only to dine (for the first and last time) at a nearby Burger King.
DAY 28 FRI We were not at all sure what we were going to do on our last day in Vienna. Rather than return to the city streets and see the same churches and art galleries we chose to catch a local train six stops to Schloss Schönbrunn, a huge palace completed in 1700. Schönbrunn is painted in the favourite colour of the Hapsburgs, yellow, and contains one thousand four hundred and forty one rooms of which we were able to tour a mere twenty two. We could only wonder how grand the other one thousand four hundred and nineteen were because the ones we saw were quite spectacular. Most grand of all was the Great Gallery, where Kennedy and Khrushchev met in 1961. Almost as historical was the Hall of Mirrors where a six year old Mozart gave his first concert.
We had elected to take the cheaper Imperial Tour which left out a few rooms. Margaret was so impressed by what she had seen so far that she attempted to join the Grand Tour while no one was looking. She only desisted when she noticed that I wasn't following her.
The backyard of the schloss was, if anything, even more impressive than the schloss itself. It was also free. The gardens are extensive and beautifully laid out with the most impressive fountain we had seen to date (the Neptunbrunnen). We skipped the labyrinth, which was not free, but walked through the rose garden, which was. We sat in a biergarten outside the Tiergarten (the world's oldest zoo) and drank beer. The service was terrible and we were most incensed when the waiter went off without giving me my change. This was very bad form for three reasons. The first is that one normally does not tip for drinks, the second that the service was terrible and the third that the customer should always given the opportunity to offer the gratuity. I had to restrain Margaret from tearing strips of the offending waiter.