Saturday, August 1, 2009


For our last sojourn outside The Netherlands, Laura and I visited Wien, Österreich - better known in non-German circles as Vienna, Austria. The name Österreich literally means "Eastern Empire" and like everything we saw there, hearkens back to the days of the Hapsburg family and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As Bill Bryson says in Neither Here Nor There, "No one clings to former glories as the Austrians do..." This is evident in the grandeur that permeates much of the city center, from the palaces to the prominent monuments to national heroes like Mozart. (Another famous Austrian whose name popped up proudly and frequently was, of course, Sigmund Freud.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

While in Vienna we were pleased to see several palaces. Below you see Laura standing in front of the Belvedere Palace, which houses the Austrian Gallery. We also visited the impressive Hofburg Palace, whose interior we viewed as part of an exhibit centered on the lives of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916) and his wife Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria, or Sisi (1837-1898). Sisi was beautiful, mostly absentee, and was assassinated in Geneva in 1898. Since that time the image of the beautiful and mysterious empress has been romanticized, usually for economic gain. Franz Joseph was still emperor when his heir, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914 and the dominoes of WW I began to fall. He died before seeing Austria's defeat.

Laura in front of Belvedere Palace

The dome of Hofburg Palace

Wien is also a little famous (or infamous) for its wine, which we happily sipped at local heurigen (wine gardens). In the mid-80's Austria found itself at the center of a scandal when it was discovered that many wine producers were using anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) as a wine sweetener. Today, all of that has been cleaned up and we were able to enjoy our wine in a very nice outdoor atmosphere without worry of side effects like nausea and death.

During our exploration of Vienna, we also happened upon the opening weekend of the Music Film Festival at Vienna City Hall Park. The festival features free nightly film and music events for nearly two months (ending August 30th). There is also a tremendously cool "food circus" on location, containing some 20+ different cuisine offerings. Everything was there - Italian, Japanese, Turkish, Indian, Australian, Mexican, just to name a few - and Laura and I had such a hard time deciding that we went back more than once. This was more than a glorified fair atmosphere; the event was decidedly upscale and everything was of extremely high quality, with no paper plates or plastic silverware to be found, for example. Below you see the huge movie screen erected in front of the town hall surrounded by seating for 3000+ people. (The Viennese really know how to do summer entertainment.)

Many of Vienna's best sites are located in and around the Ringstrasse (Ring Road), so in addition to riding the tram around the ring, we also borrowed some of Vienna's city bikes (found at racks throughout the city) to ride it at a more leisurely pace. Below are a few pictures we took. The first is a monument to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a famous German writer. Next you see St. Stephen's Cathedral; the nifty roof was rebuilt in 1952 following WWII fire damage. Finally, one site that I found particularly interesting was the Soviet-built Soviet War Memorial, which honors Red Army soldiers who died in the Vienna Offensive. It is not particularly beloved in Vienna and has many alternate names, most notably "Memorial of the Unknown Rapist."

Soviet War Memorial

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