Thursday, December 13, 2012

"And Now for Something Completely Different..."

I accomplished very little general aviation flying after Thanksgiving this year.  One reason for that came when I was invited to present at a conference in Vienna, Austria as a representative of a non-profit consortium to which I belong.

Nothing makes you appreciate flying your own airplane like a day's worth of travel peering out of a porthole on the side of a flying Greyhound.  I departed on Sunday, December 9 at noon (EST) and arrived in Vienna around noon local time (UTC+6).  Kudos to Austrian Airlines, which piped Strauss' Blue Danube into the cabin upon landing at Flughafen Wien.  Very classy; it was just like the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

From my room on the 15th floor of the NH Danube hotel, I could see that the ancient city lay beneath a leaden overcast.  My hotel overlooked the famous Danube (Donau) River and stood next door to the Vienna United Nations complex.  The wind was howling, temperatures hovered around freezing, and pedestrians were pelted with occasional flurries.  Not exactly perfect weather for a walking tour of the city, but I set out anyway.

Before departing Rochester, I reviewed maps of the city and committed critical elements to memory.  My hotel was approximately five miles from the inner part of the old city, demarcated by the Ringstrasse where the old thirteenth century city wall once stood.  From my reading, I learned that Vienna is a relatively safe city.  Indeed, I saw no seedy areas and it was remarkably pedestrian-friendly.  

I knew it!

My journey led across the Danube via a walking path beneath Wagramerstrasse.  Once across the mighty Danube, I encountered the St Francis of Assisi Church (Franz von Assisi Kirche).

Monuments dot the city, like this one dedicated to Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, a nineteenth century Austrian Admiral.

Progressing toward the city core (District 1), I crossed the Danube Canal.  My objective was to reach St Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom), a dominant feature of the Viennese skyline for centuries.

St Stephen's was originally consecrated in 1147 and the structure grew over the next two centuries.  The structure is so massive that I can only present it in vignettes.  There is no place one can stand to place the entire structure in frame.

The cathedral is undergoing restoration, having survived centuries of use and near destruction at the hands of retreating Germans at the close of World War II.

Though blackened by pollution, the Cathedral is nonetheless an amazing example of architecture in the ancient city.

Pulpit of John Capistrano.

The distinctive colorful tile roof is adorned by the double-headed eagle coat of arms of the Habsburg dynasty that ruled the Austrian Empire from 1526 to 1804.

A street scene near Stefansplatz, mixing old and new architecture.  As I wandered Vienna, I made several stray observations:

1. Nobody sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

2. Pictures of Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis are EVERYWHERE.

3. 80's music is very popular. Favorite examples include a car that passed me while CRANKING Steve Perry's "Oh, Sherry" and Jermaine Stewart singing "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" in the elevator of my otherwise very classy hotel. Cherry wine, indeed.

To quote Grandpa Simpson: "Eeeeviiillll!"  *Shakes fist at ATK sign in Homeresque fashion*

Some of the magnificent structures of Vienna are very difficult to photograph owing to narrow streets in the old city.  St Peter's Church (Peterskirche) is a terrific example.

The city was well-decorated for Christmas with large lighted structures hung over many of the streets.

Eventually, I reached the former Imperial Palace (Hofburg) of the Habsburgs.  Here in Josefsplatz, I encountered a statue of Josef II, Holy Roman Emperor from 1765 to 1790.  One building bordering Josefsplatz was once the Imperial Court Stables and now houses the Spanish Riding School.

Josef II was the brother of Marie Antoinette.  Obviously, the fellow came from a politically-powerful family, an eighteenth century version of the Bushes.

This is a portion of a magnificent entrance to the Imperial Palace from Michaelerplatz.

Michaelerplatz, including a portion of the Imperial Palace.

A fountain on the side of the Hofburg.

As I studied the sculptures outside the Hofburg, I heard Bruce Campbell's voice in my head.  "Hail to the King, baby."  Anyone who decorates their front door with statues of Hercules is either trying to send a message or compensate for something.

Michaelerplatz entrance to the Hofburg.

A rift in Michaelerplatz explicitly shows how civilizations have built on top of one another over the centuries.  The lowest levels of ruins are roman.

Another wing of the Hofburg visible from Michaelerplatz.

Stepping through the Michaelerplatz entrance brings visitors into a courtyard dominated by this monument to Kaiser Franz Joseph.

In the Heldenplatz, outside the Hofburg, Erzherzog Karl rides forever.

This newer portion on the Hofburg (Neue Burg) contains the Austrian National Library.  This is way nicer than the strip mall containing our local library.

Lion statue outside of the Neue Burg.

The Neue Burg is "guarded" by a complement of statues along its length.  This is merely an example - all of them are unique.

The back side of the Neue Burg.  I was intrigued by the prominent monument and stepped closer to investigate...

...and came face to face with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The humble back door of the Neue Burg.

Also attached to the Hofburg is the Schmetterlinghaus or Imperial Butterfly House.

I loved the detailed ornamentation on this gate near the butterfly house.

I turned another corner and found myself face to face with the author of Faust (though, frankly, I could have done without reading the painfully overwrought Sorrows of Young Werther in college, a novel that Goethe himself eventually tried to disown despite the acclaim it brought him).

Vienna is literally teeming with the ghosts of dead artists and musicians that have made their mark on the world. 

Not far from the Hofburg is the Vienna State Opera House, completed in 1869 during the end of the Habsburg Empire.

The walls of the Art History Museum are adorned with lions and each one is different.  My walking tour of the city merely skimmed the surface.  One could easily become lost in all the wonderful details.

The entrance of the Art History Museum, currently hosting an exhibit from controversial 19th century Viennese artist Gustav Klimpt.

A corner of the Natural History Museum.

Vienna's parliament building with a statue of Athena standing in front.

The Burgtheater.  Known to locals as "die Burg", the theater opened in 1741.

Another angle on "die Burg".

The Vienna town hall or "Rathaus", which seems a rather nasty name for such a magnificent structure.

I turned back to the hotel after four hours of touring the city on foot.  Snow was starting to fall more aggressively.  I waved a fond farewell to my good friend Erzherzog Karl in Heldeplatz before retracing my steps to the hotel.  The blisters I earned on both feet were worth it!

After giving my presentation on the auspicious day of 12/12/12, we journeyed back to the Rathaus by bus.

The largest Christmas Market in Vienna is set up in the Rathausplatz each year.

Booths and booths of Christmas ornaments, trinkets, bratwurst, and mulled wine lined the sidewalks.  I bought The Bear a little ceramic bear that looked like it might survive the travel back home.

The next night, December 13, Alan and I went back out into the city with the intent of touring the catacombs beneath St Stephen's cathedral (above).  Unfortunately, we arrived two or three minutes too late to join the tour.

Instead, we visited the Mozarthaus which, as the name implies, is the apartment where Mozart lived at the time he composed Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).  More than any other moment during my wanderings through the city, I was struck by an incredible sense of history; standing there in the place where the genius lived and worked.  It was a perfect way to end an all too brief visit to an amazing city.


  1. Did you notice the G-clef at the feet of Mozart? It does look better in summer when there are flowers on the green of grass making it more obvious, though :)

    1. No, I didn't! But I can see it now. In my feedback on the conference, I did comment that a different season might have made the visit to Vienna prettier! Some blue sky in these photos would have worked wonders for them.

  2. Wow!!!!!! What an awesome trip and opportunity! You should be a tour guide ;). Did you research a lot of you visit before your trip? Have a Merry Christmas!

    1. Merry Christmas to you, too, Geoff! I did some research beforehand, but quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of information out there on the city. There is simply so much there. So I chose some destinations and researched much of what I saw while resting my feet that evening.

  3. Merry Christmas!

    What beautiful pictures! Not sure about the walk to from town but I agree it was worth it. The architecture is beautiful and the engineer in me could spend days checking out the buildings and infrastructure. Thanks for sharing you tour.

  4. Merry Christmas, Gary! Thanks for the comment. I'm no engineer, but I certainly agree with you on checking out the buildings. There was so much detail everywhere. I was reminded of being a beginning flight student and being so overwhelmed with sensory input that some of the subtle stuff couldn't be discerned over the "noise". The buildings were the same way, so many little details to see while being overwhelmed by the grand scale of everything.

  5. Beautiful photos. Reminds me of when I visited Munich and Salzburg back in '08. Just a gorgeous part of the world. Business travel, at least to historic European cities, is rarely a bad time! :)

    1. You said it! I was happy that, for once, I allowed myself some free time to look around.