Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.
So very unlike the disturbing mush-meat sausages we find when we pop the top on little cans marked “Vienna,” we found the city in Austria to be substantial, gorgeous, and tasty. How could these two things ever have been connected?
The potted mini-dogs do have some tiny resemblance to the local wieners –meaning from Vienna — sold on the streets of the city, but equating the two products takes some serious imagination.
We chose to drive the thoughts of mysterious lumps of pork by-products from our minds and consume as much of the majestic namesake city as we could on our one-day shore leave from the Viking Longship Skadi.
Christmas market in front of Vienna’s Town Hall
While the history of settlements along the Danube where Vienna now stands dates back some twenty-five hundred years, the city we visited is completely dominated by the heritage of The Hapsburgs.
The dynasty ruled the Holy Roman Empire, then the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austro-Hungarian Empire for over six hundred years until 1918. Their palaces, churches, and government buildings are everywhere in the old city center.
The Brangelina of Vienna
From the river, we caught the subway into the heart of the old town and came up from underground right next to the Albertina, named for Marie Antoinette’s sister Christina and her husband Prince Albert of Saxony.
The couple was famous for marrying for love, a rarity among the Hapsburgs who generally used nuptials as a means for combining power. The two became the Brangelina of their day, with the love-struck prince building an art museum that used their combined names, Albertina.
From the terrace of Albertina we could see the Imperial Palace — or at least part of it.
The huge mansion we were overlooking was the Neue Burg, or New Castle, and is actually only a small portion of the incredible Hofburg Palace that consists of about a dozen buildings covering several blocks.
Everything is SO substantial!
Since its beginnings, around seven hundred and fifty years ago, the complex has grown to include much more than royal residences.
Churches, museums, the Imperial Treasury, the Austrian National Library, the Burgtheater, the Hofburg Congress Center, Imperial Horse Stables, and the famous Spanish Riding School are all part of the sprawling complex. Every one of these is amazing in its own right, but combined… it was almost overwhelming.
As we made our way along Reitschulgasse we came to Josefsplatz, where a full-sized statue of Emperor Joseph II stands aboard his trusty steed in front of the National Library and old horse stables.
Nowadays the horses are found at the Spanish Riding School next to the old stables, the home of the world renowned Lipizzan stallions.
Spoiled horses: The stables at the Spanish Riding School
Our most impressive view of the palace came at Michaelerplatz, where a huge gate opens into the complex, more or less as the front door. Those Hapsburgs really knew how to put on a show for the neighbors.
Kaffeehauskultur – yeah, baby!
From the palace, we turned toward the city center and made our way toward the Graben, one of Vienna’s most famous streets.
Along the way were stopped by a life-sized figure of a woman, made entirely of sugar, standing in the window of Café Demel.
Seemed like as good as any place to grab a cup of joe and dip a toe in the Viennese coffeehouse culture.
Founded in 1786, Café Demel certainly has the pedigree to be one of the city’s top coffeehouses, but it is perhaps better known as a sweet shop.
On our way to a table we passed the bakery, which is glass encased so we could watch all of the sensations being created.
Struck us as a kind of confectioner’s aquarium.
Café Demel is the kind of place that made us want to linger over our coffee and bread, but with some much to see we pushed on.
The first sight that greeted us when we reached the Graben was Peterskirche.
Believed to be on the site of the first church in Vienna, the existing version was modelled after St. Peter’s in Rome and built in 1701.
This St. Peters had to be squeezed into a much smaller space.
A Bit of a Pox on Emperor Leopold
In the center of the bustling pedestrian walkway is a plague monument, The Pestsäule.
Most cities in this part of Europe have one, and this towering testament was constructed by Emperor Leopold I following the Great Plague of Vienna in 1679.
Leopold left town when the sickness hit, but promised to build a mercy column if the epidemic would end.
What a guy!
Perhaps that’s why the artist chose to portray the ruler in a less-than-flattering likeness. Or maybe old Leo was simply very funny looking.
At the end of the Graben we came to Stephansplatz, the square at the geographical center of Vienna. It is named for the Stephansdom, Vienna’s cathedral and one of the tallest churches in the world.
The main tower reaches four hundred and forty-five feet high and is the tallest building in the city.
Built on top of two older churches, the current structure was begun nearly seven centuries ago. It was spared from destruction near the end of World War II when Captain Gerhard Klinkicht, thankfully, refused to obey orders to shell it with cannon fire.
Heading back to the subway we came upon a somber piece of graffiti that stated: Vienna is Full of expensive Sadness.
While we could understand part of the writer’s sentiment, Vienna is filled with opulence, we didn’t really see the sadness.
But we know the graffitist could find a can of melancholy mystery meat that is anything but expensive… even in Vienna.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Visit Vienna’s Christmas Market
Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own. See our entire Christmas cruise along The Danube with stops in Budapest, Bratislavia, Vienna, Durnstein & Melk, Salzburg, and Passau.