Friday, July 12, 2013

(Europe trip, post 4 of 14) Last day in Vienna

June 5, 2013

After enjoying one last delicious breakfast at our hotel, we stowed our luggage in a room there and checked out.  We had one last day to explore Vienna and we started off by visiting the Hofburg since we weren't able to fit it in during our "Sisi Day" (the previous day).  On our walk to the u-bahn I snapped this picture of the historic Vienna Opera House.  I would love to see an Opera there the next time we come to Vienna!

Pictures weren't allowed inside the museums, but here is a picture outside the Hofburg Palace where the Habsburgs used to rule and reside.  My interests in them (especially Elisabeth and Franz Josef) were explained thoroughly enough in my previous post, so it sufficeth to say that I enjoyed our audio guided tour through the imperial apartments, extensive silver/porcelain collection, and the Sisi Museum.  I loved that Mark managed to be interested in things too and that I wasn't just dragging him through all this!

Me in front of some of the horse drawn carriages.

Mark and I stopped to marvel at the impressive detail in the anatomy and expressions in the marble figures on this fountain.  It is incredible what these artists can chisel out of marble and other stone.

There was so much to see, and so little time that we weren't always able to stop and learn about everything or fully appreciate everything we passed.  For example, I quickly snapped a shot of this beautiful church as we whisked ourselves past this quiet little square.  I know nothing about it, but it represents one of the many amazing things we saw everywhere (but were unable to stop and appreciate) as we explored this beautiful, historic city.

Just to document...I have to mention that sometime this day we found a bookshop where we purchased a copy of 'The Gruffalo' in German to take home to the boys.  I love it!  It was fun to browse the other books in the kids' section of the store too.

While we were deciding where to stop for lunch we rounded a corner and I saw Cafe Central.  It was on my list of places to try a dessert, so we decided to pop in there for lunch too.  I'm so glad we did.

First of all, these are just a few of their desserts.  I am not exaggerating.  Truly exquisite.

Perhaps because I was focused on the dessert, my expectations for the food was low...but it was tasty too!  We slurped down the asparagus soup before taking a picture (gasp!) and were half way done with our goulash before remembering to document it...

Mark selected this "Schokozauber" which was heavenly.  My mouth seriously waters just looking at this photo.

I couldn't leave Vienna without having Apfelstrudel...with vanilla sauce of course.  Also delicious.

A picture of Mark at the table where we ate.  You can get a feeling of how classy this cafe is.  I loved the beautiful arched ceilings and herringbone floors...and the cool statue guy that was seated next to us of course.

Speaking of cool old guys...Mark took this shot of this debonair old gentleman over my shoulder.  He sat by himself in the cafe having a drink reading the paper.  Does he remind you of anyone?  He reminds me of the old man on Toy Story 2 who tells Al "You can't rush art!" (or the old man playing chess on the Pixar short 'Geri's Game').  Because this is so amusing to me, I'll include a couple pictures below this one.  Tell me what you think...

Just a quick shot of Mark as we left Cafe Central.  Mmmm.  If we come to Vienna again I will have a pastry there each day we're in town.

This is a picture of Graben where you can see this monument called  the Dreifaltigkeitssäule (Trinity Column) or the Pestsäule (Plague Column).  Click here to read about the history of Graben back to medieval times.  There is a lot of upscale shopping in this area, which we weren't interested in, but is worth mentioning.

Next stop: Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral).  This towering cathedral made a huge impression on me 14 years ago when I visited with my dad.  I had just come from an area of Germany with impressive sprawling palaces, but not gigantic Gothic structures like this.  Here is a concise, but comprehensive outline of the history of the cathedral.  As you can see the porous limestone has absorbed lots of pollution over the years, and the cathedral is pretty much always under some form of cleaning and/or restoration...but it is stop you in your tracks fantastic.

The large vaulted ceilings, huge stained glass windows, and light display designed by Victoria Coeln made this Gothic edifice amazing to behold.  We enjoyed taking time while there to read about the history of the building and intricacies of the interior.  It is really a stunning cathedral.

How cool is the shadow in this shot?...

The suspended crucifix added to the already three dimensional atmosphere created by the light in the cathedral.

I believe this is a shot of the South Tower called "Steffl" by the Viennese (diminutive form of Stephen).  If that is correct (that this is the south tower) then this tower is nearly 450 feet high, and is the tower that we climbed.

We walked up 343 steps in this narrow winding staircase up to the "tower-keeper's room".  Ironically, right before coming to the cathedral we made a stop at a grocery store to pick up drinks, a bunch of chocolate, etc (not stellar planning) Mark was nice enough to pack it up the tower for us too!

One of the views out over Vienna.

Here you can better see the ornate patterns of colorful tiles that adorn the roof of the cathedral.

In the photo below, look above the date 1683 and you can see damage from a dud cannon ball during the second Turkish siege.  The Turkish Empire was a great Muslim power that for 3 centuries threatened to overrun Christian Europe.  When I read up on this, a date mentioned in passing struck me which was interesting, so humor me:  A Turkish army intent on finally overtaking the Holy Roman Empire laid siege on Vienna for over 2 months.  They were on the very verge of overtaking them when on September 11, 1683 a Polish army arrived.  The Polish Commonwealth combined forces with the Holy Roman Empire and they drove back the Turks, never to advance again.  In fact, this defeat included the largest cavalry charge ever in recorded history (I found that interesting).  Had the Turks overtaken Vienna and therefor taken control of the Holy Roman Empire...Europe would not be the primarily Christian dominated continent that it is today.  Perhaps it is coincidence that 230 years ago a huge Muslim power was defeated by Christian nations, therefor diminishing the breadth of their influence...on September 11th.  I'm sure that I'm not the only person to make this correlation, and maybe it is a coincidence, but it wouldn't surprise me if amidst all the planning that went into September 11th (2001)...if that date didn't come up as one that would be gleefully ironic to the extremist Muslim Jihadists.  A new September 11th where they could write the ending.

To give you an idea of the location of the above picture with the cannon ball hole, look at the photo below.  there are 3 alcoves with statues, and that 1683 is located under the center statue. 

Now a little WWII tid-bit.  When the Nazis annexed Austria, the name Österreich (Austria) was forbidden.  So, the secret code for the Austrian resistance was 05.  The 0 for O, and 5 since the 5th letter of the alphabet is e.  So 05 = OE...and an E can be added after an O in German to create Ö.  So, if you are facing the front door entrance to the cathedral, you can find this small engraving to the right of the door underneath the old tombstones.  They have placed plexiglass over it to preserve it.

Lastly, a quick clip so you can hear the sound of the church bells...

I had quite a check list of things we were trying to tie up the loose ends on before leaving of which was having a pastry and hot cocoa at Cafe Demel.  Months prior I read an article on msn about the top most luxurious places to have a cup of cocoa in the world, and it was on the list - therefor it hit my list!

We sat at the bar and enjoyed watching the dynamics of the staff as they served up drinks.  Here is our server with the machine that made our cocoa!

We had to try the famous Sachertorte...

...but I have to say that this cake (almond, I think?) won the plate-scraping-delicious award.

This picture is for you, Chels!  Delicious hot cocoa!

I got shy about shooting pictures at the metro, but had to have a picture so I shot this one from the hip (literally).

I am very fond of riding the metro system.  It's such an efficient way to get around, and it reminds me of living in Germany.  Here's a quick shot of Mark on the metro as we headed from one place to the next.

We were already a good way up this escalator when I took this shot (coming up out of this metro stop), but it was one of the longest escalators I've ever been on.

Me depositing my coin to enter the Vienna Opera Toilet at the Opera metro stop (it is a nicer metro bathroom that plays music).  I had to.

And a video clip, just for fun...

After picking up our luggage from our hotel, we headed to the train station.  Taking public transportation with all that luggage, it felt like transfer day on my mission again...except I was traveling with a hot guy that I was allowed to smooch on.  OK, so it wasn't that much like transfer day, but it reminded me of it anyway.  Here's one last shot of the metro before going to catch our sleeper train.

We didn't have too long to sit and wait for our train to arrive.  We weren't hungry for dinner after all the sweets we'd eaten today, so we grabbed a drink and some bread to take on the train with us.  I had to take a picture from where we sat waiting for our train to show that even the view out the window at the train station was beautiful!  I love Vienna.

Mark asking a quick question about our tickets before we boarded our train.

This is our room for the night!  Yes, that is the entire room...I took the picture from the hallway of the train.  Our beds (bunk style) pulled out of the wall.  The cabin was small, but served its purpose.  It was nice to know we could go to sleep and just arrive at our next destination in the morning!
Goodbye Vienna.  Goodbye speaking German.  Goodbye delicious, nostalgic food.
Now on to places that were only familiar to me in my dreams!  Italy...