On Monday, we woke up in Vienna, which was our 5th day of this trip through Central Europe. So, we deserved to sleep in a little. And we did. But by 11am, we were out the door and on the metro. I have to say, the metro system here is the most efficient and cleanest metro system I have seen anywhere. In fact, this entire city is immaculate.
Less than 30 minutes after leaving the Courtyard Marriott, we were walking into Figlmuller, an iconic restaurant in Vienna’s city center. Once again, I would not have known about this restaurant, were it not for my friend Harout Samra in Miami, who has visited Vienna a number of times on business. He had described Vienna to me as a smaller, cleaner Paris. After less than 40 hours here, I have to agree. It has the cafes, the history, the palaces and parliament, but not as overwhelming. And, much, much cleaner indeed.
Figlmuller is known for its schnitzel, a popular Viennese dish. It is basically a thinly breaded pork or chicken – we both got the pork today. This was at least our second or third time (for each of us) of eating schnitzel. And, this place clearly had the best we ever had. We had attempted to go there for dinner the night before, but they were booked up – and told us they would be for dinner tonight too. So, we decided to stop by for an early lunch around 11:30am and we lucked out with a nice table by the window.
After lunch, we walked into St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is just a block or so away. In the book, The Priest Barracks, that I read last week on Dachau, one story stuck out to me about this cathedral. When the Nazis were ordering churches in Germany and in the occupied nations (including Austria) to read their propaganda from the pulpit, some did. But eventually what the Nazis wanted them to read went too far. So, one day, on October 7, 1938, the archbishop of Vienna pronounced from the pulpit in St. Stephen’s Cathedral that “There is only one Fuhrer: Jesus Christ.” He was in the presence of six thousand young Catholics who were participating in a rally that was dubbed the “Rosary Revolt.”
St. Stephen’s Cathedral was absolutely beautiful on the inside and the outside. Just an amazing architectural structure. It was filled with tourists and when we walked in, there was also a daily mass going on (it was, after all, just past noon). I thought about the many moments in history (since the cathedral first built in 1137 and completed in 1160) this cathedral witnessed here in the city of Vienna. However, based on my recent reading, I thought most of all about how much courage it too Archbishop Innitzer to speak out against what the Nazis were trying to do to control the Austrian population through the institution of the Catholic Church. And how these grounds were used to protest against that.
We then walked down some of Vienna’s bustling pedestrian streets on this Monday and about 10 minutes or so later we arrived at the Hofburg Palace. For more than 600 years, this was the residence of the Austrian sovereigns. It became one of the most important centers in European history. It was from here that the Habsurgs reigned from the 13th century as the rulers of Austrian patrimonial lands, and from 1452 as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, and as emperors of Austrian from 1806 until 1918.
Today, this palace is still in use today, as the political center of the Democratic Republic of Austria, so only some parts of it are opened. We walked around, admiring the exterior, and then found our way to the library, which is in the State Hall. This was a Free Mason library and included very tall ceilings with many bookshelves of classic books. It reminded me a lot of the library at Trinity College that I visited with my mother when we were in Dublin. It was hard to determine which was nicer, but this one in Vienna was very immaculate and grand and full of history! If you like old books, this is the place for you. The artwork decked out inside was also incredible.
From there, we took an Uber ride over to the Schonbrunn Palace. It was the “summer palace” for the Hapbsburg Dynasty. The buildings that previously stood on this site date back to the 14th century. But, those buildings were destroyed when Turkish forces sieged Vienna in 1683. It was rebuilt again, in its current form, beginning in the 1740s with final completion on the palace completed in the 1760s and the elaborate gardens in the 1770s.
This palace reminded me a lot of Versailles in Paris, except that it’s not as far outside the city. In fact, it’s still in the city and accessible by a metro line (which we used on the way back). We toured the gardens, which included a maze! We actually took quite some time to make it through the maze. It looked easier than it was to find our way through it. But we did! We walked out onto a large hill which featured a nice structure and overlooked the entire grounds, with the palace and the city of Vienna in the distance. It seemed to be the best view of Vienna on a beautiful day.
We dressed in suits today. First of all, Marshall almost always dresses in a suit! The guy travels light, so he travels well. He simply carries one briefcase as his entire luggage for three weeks (he started his trip a week earlier in Italy). But today we had plans to go to a Mozart concert (more on that later) and we didn’t want to have to travel back to our hotel so that we could make the most of our day (also, because we woke up about two hours later than planned). But it was amazing weather. The high was around 72 degrees today, but most of the day was in the mid-60s and the morning and nighttime it got into the 50s. This was a much welcome change from the hot and humid Central Florida summer we were escaping. But these nice suits also made for some great photos in a city of baroque, classical, and gothic architecture.
We toured the inside of the Schonbrunn Palace at our appointed time in the middle of the afternoon. While this palace has seen many important times in history over the centuries, a few remarkable things stood out to me on our tour. We were in the Mirror Room where six-year old Mozart played his first performance for Empress Maria Theresa in October 1762. Afterwards, it was said that when she applauded, he was so excited (he was six years old) that he jumped up into her arms. In another room, a grand ballroom style room, is where U.S. President John F. Kennedy first met with the USSR’s Nicholas Kruschev in 1961 and dined at an elaborate gala dinner. And yet in another bedroom is where Napoleon would sleep on his visits to Vienna. His son had married one of the Hapsburgs who reigned from this palace.
After visiting this historic palace, we hopped on the metro and got off near the Parliament building. There were tons of police and security apparatus around the building, which is situated right up on a major street across from a very large park. We took some photos from the exterior and then walked along Ring Road towards the direction of the Vienna State Opera House where we would take in our Mozart concert experience. Prior to the concert, we had dinner at Augustinerkeller, a beer hall that was in a location of a former monastery (do you see a trend here?). There were cave like walks and ceilings that looked like a cellar. Very cool surroundings and very amazing food. What we ate was sort of like ham with cabbage/sauerkraut. We were full!
We then walked a block over to the Vienna State Opera House where we enjoyed a two-hour concert (an intermission was included) of some of Mozart’s most famous works, along with that of a few other composers. It was absolutely amazing. The performance was done by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. All the performers are dressed in historical period costumes. In this setting, we really felt transported back to the 18th century. The music carried our spirits – from the singing of religious pieces such as “Gloria” by a very large choir, to opera singers taking the stage to join the orchestra for “Don Giovanni” and many other pieces.
Following dinner, we made it back to Café Landtmann (we had tried Café Central but it was closed) for a final desert. We then got back on the metro and back to our hotel where we retired for the night. It was a long, but amazing day in a city that lifts the spirits – from the immaculate streets, the beautiful architecture, and the classical music that has been a part of this city for centuries. I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with Vienna and the beautiful country of Austria. In the morning, we will say farewell to Austria, as we take an hour-long train from here to Bratislava, Slovakia, and then on to Budapest, Hungary. The past five days included two new countries for me (Germany and Austria) and by day’s end tomorrow, I’ll have gone to two more new countries. What an amazing trip so far.