A May 1997 trip
to Vienna by actonsteve
Quote: If you are looking for the Vienna of Imperial palaces, trotting white horses and mountains of cakes - you will find it. Vienna remains exceedingly charming and must still be one of the loveliest cities in Europe.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on July 8, 2001
HI - Neustiftgasse
The Ringstrasse gurdles the Aldstadt of Vienna. Its eastern edge is the Donau Canal along Schwedenplatz, but the north, west and south is a great ten lane boulevard ringed with trams and majestic buildings. Vienna was always huddling behind its city walls as it was a major impediment for the Ottoman Turks conquest of Europe. But as time went on that threat receded and ornate buildings were built outside the city walls. Between the them and the walls was the sloping glacis (lawn) and in 1857 Franz Josef decided to flatten this and create the Ringstrasse and between 1860 till 1906 he built what you see today. He wanted grand monumental buildings to show off the splendour of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And seeing them after a century of completion you cannot help but agree with Bill Bryson who said "If the martians were to land in Vienna, they would think it was the capital of the world..."
All tram, bus and U-bahn routes lead to the Ringstrasse. The trams themselves epitomise the city and are rather elegant with red and white flags attached to their foredecks. The Ring-kai-Ring tram circumnavigates the Ringstrasse and makes for an easy rest when the feet can''t take any more pounding. A good tram stop is outside the Parliament building and the maps have illustrations of the buildings on the routes which makes them rather charming. There is nothing quite so Viennese as waiting for a tram with the locals on a cold winter''s day.
To begin a tour of the Ringstrasse it''s best to start in the north-east corner and take an anti-clockwise direction. After the Bourse the first major building you will come to is the Voltivkirche. This is a neo-gothic creation with two soaring steeples and a facade that is streaked with grime. Inside is a vaulted ceiling and superb stained glass windows. Several monuments abound inside including one with a pictograph of a stormtrooper. My German is so bad I could not tell whether they were commemorating or condemning the lives of the soldiers. Outside is the green expanse of Sigmund Freud Park which is always full of lounging students from the nearby university. The university itself isn''t as sleepy and a demonstration was going on while we were there. Pretty gardens lead to the Rathaus - Vienna''s city hall (see photo). This is built in the Flemish gothic style and it''s steffl soars above the surrounding buildings. But across the Ringstrasse is the Burgtheater - the royal theater - with its baroque exterior. It''s season of events is excellent, and like the Staatsoper, often puts on productions very cheaply. What astounds me about Vienna is that the majority of the populace know about and enjoy these productions. That does not happen in too many capital cities.
Just south of the Rathaus is the Parliament building (see photo) with is Doric columns and statuary. During Franz Josef''s time it was rather a white elephant, the Emporer himself kept a firm grip on the Empire. And south of this is the stunning Maria-Theresa Platz. When I first saw this from a moving tram I was so amazed I jumped off the tram there and then. Two huge neo-classical buildings overlook a green square full of tinkling fountains, topiary and classical statues (see photo). The pride of place goes to the coal black statue of Empress Maria Theresa seated above prostrate courtiers. The whole platz is very photogenic and a visit to the world-class art at the Kunsthistorisches Museum is a must. Just to the south is the exclusive apartments of the nobility. The best of these overlook the most famous building in Vienna, the Staatsoper - the Opera House. Its neoclassical facade is world-famous and even when there isn''t a production on you can get a tour of the interior for 80 Austrian Schillings. It''s rather an egalitarian institution and if you are lucky you can get tickets for 20 AS (about £1.00/$1.60).
To see more of Vienna''s musical heritage, walk north towards the Hofburg, in the Burgarten there is a monument to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It''s rather a twee statue, very popular with us tourists, with a large quaver depicted in flowers in front of him. The Ringstrasse gets quieter around here and more residential. If you cross it again there is the great square of Schwarzenburgplatz. Named after the patrician general this is very beautiful but behind it is a giant fountain with water shooting forty feet in the air. When I first visited I noticed a statue on a plinth behind it. On closer inspection it was a Soviet Soldier. When the Russians liberated and occupied Vienna at the end of the war they built this monument to their dead. The Viennese, try as they might, can''t get rid of it. The thing is so solid it resisted three attempts to blow it up.
By now you feet would have been aching and you need a sit-down. The southern part of the Ringstrasse is attached to the lovely Stadtpark. Dotted with copses, pathways, statues and flowerbeds - the highlight of the park is the golden statue of Strauss (see photo). I found myself a nice green patch of lawn with a good eyeline for the monument, settled back and promptly had a nap in the middle of Vienna.
Attraction | "The Schonbrunn Palace - Baroque retreat of the Austrian Empress"
That was the refrain of the Habsburg family and the secret of its expansion and longevity. The real grandiose palace of the Habsburgs has to be Schonbrunn. This is a real smack-in-the-mouth Imperial palace and exhibts the elegance and grandiosity that you came to Austria to find. The gardens themselves are worth a mornings wander and if you combine it with the nearby Tiergarten (zoo) you could spend all day at this sumptuous imperial retreat and be transported back to the days of golden carriages, stylish courtiers and dazzling balls.
Schonbrunn has always been a hunting retreat of the Habsburgs and was located a days ride outside the city walls. When Empress Maria Theresa ascended the throne she sought to expand it and the court architect was ordered to design something to rival Versailles. Instead he created a stylish baroque palace with gardens stretching up to a hill on which the palace was to be originally built. She was a curious figure, Maria Theresa, and dominated the Austrian empire for forty years. She was an enlightened empress who numbered Voltaire as one of her friends as well as being very reactionary and introduced a decree against adulterous spouses. Many thought this was hypocritical in the extreme as her own husband was a well-known philanderer, but it did not stop the police from escorting those caught, including Cassanova, to the Austrian border. In modern times it housed both the headquarters of the British and Soviet armies after the liberation. And was where Kennedy and Krushchev met in 1963.
To reach it is easy. It lies on the Linke Weizelle which follows the old Wien river west out of town. Nowadays it is a motorway and the U-bahn runs underneath it allowing you to get off at Schonbrunn or Hietzing. From there it is a walk west along the Linke Weizelle where you will follow the crowds to the great courtyard of the Schonbrunn palace. Your first view of it will be breathtaking - a grand cobbled space enfoled by the rococco wings of the palace. Statues and fountains tinkle in the centre, offset against the mustard yellow of the palaces'' facade. The entrance is in the centre of the courtyard or you can walk around and view the gardens or wagenburg (carriage museum). You can tour the palace yourself but I would recommend a guided tour for only 80 Austrian schillings. Get there early as the queue''s for the tours can be very long.
The Schonbrunn Palace was in use until the last Habsburg abdicated in 1918. Franz Josef, the most famous Emporer loved it here and he used to visit his platonic mistress Katarina Schratt who lived in Hietzing. His apartments are the first ones that you visit and matched his character with spartan military bed, frugal office and heavy darkwood meeting rooms. His Empress'' rooms were more feminine with white walls with gold filigree and mansard windows. But the cream of the rooms belonged to Maria Theresa - including an epic audience chamber with a picture of a thousand carriages (see photo) and the Chinois room which was decorated from floor to ceiling in blue tiles depicting scenes of the orient. As you wandered around the palace the parquet floor creaked and the guides were so good you expected to see richly embroidered courtiers appear at every corner.
Once you have finished the tour - the gartens (gardens) are a must. Best entered through the vineyard which leads to the garden facing the southern mustard facade of the palace. This is a lawn made up of geometrically aligned flowerbeds and points towards a small hill with the rococco Gloriette perched on its summit. At the foot of the hill is a great fountain and pool - the Neptunebrunner - with a thirty foot fountain of water soaring into the air flanked by statues of marine horses and sea gods. A zig-zag path leads up to the summit of the hill and the Gloriette (see photo)is a good place to make for. The ivory coloured roccoco flight of fantasy houses a cafe and restaurant where you can sip your kaffee and gaze down on the palace. Even more impressive is the view of Vienna beyond the palace with the spire of the Stephansdom quite visible from the restaurant.
To finish with Schonbrunn head west towards the Tiergarten which is the oldest zoo in Europe. The enclosures showing the fauna of the Austrian Tyrol are mean''t to be the most impressive and most worth seeing. And nearby is the Schmetterlinghaus (butterfly hosue)and wrought-iron Palmenhaus (greenhaus),both of which are open to the public. But the best thing is to simply wander the gardens. If you can time it for when the sun is setting and golden shadows illuminate the Neptunnbrunner and the facade of the palace turns scarlet in the setting sun.
Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens (Schloss Schönbrunn)
Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse 47
Vienna, Austria 1130
43 1 811 13-239
Attraction | "The Prater Park - site of "The Third Man""
Prater Amusement Park and Ferris Wheel
Attraction | "The Hofburg - Imperial Palace of the Habsburgs"
Vienna Hofburg (Palace, Apartments, Sisi Museum, Silver Collection)
Centre Of The Old Town
Vienna, Austria A-1010
+43 01 533 7570
London, United Kingdom