The first thought that came in my mind while writing this post was, “what can I write that has not already been written about this city?”.
But I guess everyone writes not about the place but their perception of the place. So let me write down mine.
First things first – how did I land there. If you are a follower of my blog, then you know it already from the post about Bratislava. I’ll state it briefly here – it was a matchmaking done by software. I gave the dates and cities I would be willing to go to and the airlines software informed me that I would be going to Vienna at the end of the booking.
Since I had not been there and everyone who had been there talked very highly of it, so I was quite looking forward to it. There were some change of plans due to unexpected circumstances and I won’t bore you with that. One interesting thing I learnt in this journey was the name of a country I didn’t know existed – Moldova. A friend commented just recently that he gets the feeling it’s an imaginary place :).
Anyway, so there I was at 9 am in the city after an early morning flight. The sun was shining and I could feel some humidity in the air. My trusted advisor – google – could not tell me the right public transport connection to my hotel. So once I reached the city from the airport, I walked as per the map directions given by the aforementioned advisor despite having the day pass for the city transport. It was not too long but not too short a distance either. But that gave me a chance to get the first impressions of the city. Like this one below.
Upon reaching the hotel, I realized it was in a residential building. It was my first experience of what is called a Pension (pronounced Pen-see-on and not Pention). While I was standing and wondering how to get in, a resident of the building came by after bringing coffee from outside. She rang the bell to her apartment and when the main door opened, she let me in and we chatted briefly in the lift. She was British and had been living in Vienna since a couple of years.
I reached my Pension on the second floor (or was it third?) and rang the door bell. I was greeted warmly by the host who showed me my room and let me relax a bit before the formalities of signing stuff. It actually felt like going to a relative’s home rather than a hotel. May be that’s how Pensions are – I have had no prior experience with that.
Then after restoring my energy, I came out and the owner explained everything about the place to me and gave me a map too. Then I hurried towards the place – Albertina – from where a free walking tour would be beginning. Upon reaching there, I found a huge group already leaving and it looked like it was difficult to find my place in it. Another couple there was also wondering what to do. We got to chatting and thought that may be we should go with the paid one. Checked inside the tourist information center which around. The tour was due to start in some time. We were joined by another family of four. Then we started. We went through parts of the old city. Usually I like the walking tours but this one was quite boring for me. It felt like someone’s reading to you from a History book! I would recommend to take the free walking tour where you tip the guide at the end of the tour. I think they are more entertaining than the ones whom you pay upfront, as the former’s tips depend on how much the people enjoyed the trip!
Anyway, here are some glimpses of what I saw in the walking tour. The starting point was this “Monument Against War and Fascism”at the Albertinaplatz. The sculptor of this monument was Alfred Hrdlicka. It is there to remind people of the atrocities that were dealt on the people during the second world war, to keep the memory alive, so that the cruelty of that kind doesn’t take place ever again. It is pretty powerful, once you look carefully and understand what is represented by the different pieces of the monument.
The Imperial Hofburg palace was another stop – this was the place where so many generations of the Hapsburg dynasty lived and ruled from. But in the 20th century, it became the place (look at the balcony) from where the announcement of Anschluss (merging of Austria into Nazi Germany) was made by Hitler.
We had a lot of other interesting discussions – things that I didn’t know – on the way. For example, I didn’t know that Hitler was actually welcomed rather than opposed in Austria!
Let’s get to “sweeter” things. We reached the famous Demel Cafe which originally was a bakery that supplied to the royal kitchen. But then in the 1950s and 60s, it was in a legal battle with Sacher Hotel over the claim over the original “Sacher Torte” – a chocolate cake! Finally Sacher Hotel won and now sells pricier Sacher Torte than Demel Cafe. I stepped inside the cafe and found nice decorations for Easter.
The tour went on for some time and the impression that I got of the city was that how much of it revolved around Maria Theresa (18th century). At second place was Sisi – Empress Elisabeth of Austria (19th century) who was the wife of the Emperor Franz Joseph. For sure, there would be many more noteworthy people in Vienna but most of the stories that I heard in the tour were around these two ladies only. That says something about their influence and impact.
One interesting point mentioned by the tour guide was that in those days of Kings and Queens, the marriages were arranged for political gains, which everyone knows, but Maria Theresa allowed one daughter of hers to marry for love. That was Maria Christina. She married Duke Albert of Saxon. They were big patrons of art. So it’s befitting that their residence is a big art museum today by the name of Albertina.
The tour guide showed us also a dig (quite small) from the Roman times. Based on the coins found there, it was concluded that it must have been the Red Light area outside the city walls hosting the Roman military camps. Of course, over the centuries the walls were broken and the city expanded. The Romans were forgotten and also their stories. But then many excavations in the 20th century brought out the history.
Every stone of the city seemed to be wanting to tell some story but sadly I didn’t have the interpreter. When I started writing this post, I thought I won’t have many things to write but now so many words are gushing forth that one post will not be sufficient. May be that’s what happens also when one starts to enjoy the Viennese Waltz. Pausing here and composing my thoughts, so as to bring the second routine of the Waltz with some more impressions of Vienna I brought home with me.