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Cultural Connections – Vienna
Arriving in the City
The train to Vienna was a bit late leaving Budapest, and so we get into the Station, Wien-Meidling, closer to 7:00 pm and we find a cab to take us to our final hotel. This time we are staying at what most consider a “business hotel” – the Hilton Vienna. We have points, so this stay is “free”…Yay!
The hotel sits on the edge of Stadpark, a major city park and just a couple of blocks away from the older part, the Innere Stadt, of the City. You can easily walk to Mozart’s home from here. As usual, we take a quick walk around the area outside of the hotel to get our bearings and see what’s what.
As we walk, we talk about the things we want to see in Vienna. High on my list is the Spanish Riding School. When I was quite young, my mother took me to see the beautiful Lipizzaner Stallions. I’ve never forgotten the experience. For some reason, I thought the school was outside of the City. You can imagine my surprise and delight when we stumbled across the stables less than a mile from the hotel.
Day 9: Vienna – Sight Seeing
The Spanish Riding School and the Lipizzaners (part 1)
After breakfast, I’m on a mission. I want to go back over to the Spanish Riding School and find out how we can see the Lipizzaners. We find the office for the school and take a look at the performance schedule. There are no performances scheduled during our stay. I am bummed, to say the least.
However, the school also sells tickets to see the morning training sessions and for guided tours of the stables. We are too late to see the training session today, so we book for tomorrow. Yay!
You can reserve tickets for the Guided Tour of the Spanish Riding School on-line for around 18€. However, you must book the Morning Exercise tickets at the ticket box office at the School. Morning Exercise tickets run 15€ per person.
Sight Seeing in the Old Town
With the number one crucial item (the Lipizzaners) taken care of, for now, we set off on foot touring the City. Nearby is Habsburg Palace and the Museum of Habsburg, which houses the Imperial Treasury. On a whim, we decide to visit.
The museum houses room after room of jewels, crowns, and vestments covering nearly 1,000 years of royalty. Most of the collection comes from the time of the Habsburgs (aka Hapsburgs) dynasty that ruled this region from 1438 – 1740.
The Museum of Habsburg is open nearly every day and self-guided tours are available in several languages. You can purchase tickets to the Imperial Treasury Vienna online or at the museum itself. The cost is 12€ per adult.
After the museum, we take a winding walk back to our Hotel.
Day 10: Vienna – the Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School and the Lipizzaners (part 2)
Today, we get to see the morning training session of the Lipizzaners and tour the school. I’m quite excited. We get to the Spanish Riding School about 30 minutes before the training session starts. When you arrive you are given a group number, and when your number is called you enter the venue with your group.
Morning Training Session
There is no photography allowed in the theater, and you are asked to keep silent so as not to distract the horses and trainers. The music (classical of course) begins, and the trainers and horses enter the stage. I did sneak a shot or the theater before the horses were brought in just for an overall view.
The morning exercises last a couple of hours, you can stay for all or part of the training. Since we have the guided tour already booked, we stay for a little over an hour and then head back down to meet up with the tour. During that hour we get to see several riders and stallions go through the most fantastic maneuvers. This will always be a thrill for me.
Touring the School and Stables
The tour takes you through the Winter Riding School, the Summer Riding School, and Stables. You are allowed to take photos as you walk through the grounds, and the guide provides excellent commentary on the history of the Lipizzaners. You might get lucky as you walk through the stables and actually see a stallion or two. We did, but again, unfortunately, no photography allowed of the horses.
A Traditional Dinner
For dinner tonight, we tuck into Plachutta Wollzeile to try a local Vienna classic “Tafelspitz.” Tafelspitz is basically a pot of boiled beef. The Tafelspitz beef is from the rump. The meat is sliced and placed in a pan with onion, carrots, celery, parsley root, leeks, and water, then set to simmer.
Tafelspitz is brought to the table in a gorgeous copper pot, and the meal is served with brown bread, fried potato rosti, chive sauce (sour cream and chives), and horseradish with apple. Tafelspitz is served family-style. A must-try when you are in town.
Day 10: A Visit to Melk via the Danube
Wanting to see more of the Danube from the water, we book a tour to Melk to see the famous Benedictine Abbey there. Tours like this one abound in Vienna. We had been looking for things to do, and the concierge at the hotel provided us with several brochures. This outing sounded fun and was a reasonable cost (around 80 € per person), so we gave it a shot.
The trip started on a bus from a central location in Vienna, promptly at 9:00 am. While we booked an English speaking tour, our guide spoke at least five languages that I could count. His language skills came in handy as there were many people on the tour for whom English was not their first language.
Driving & Sailing Through the Country Side
For the first part of the tour, we drove through the Danube Valley and eventually into Wachau Valley. Many small towns and villages dot the landscape as well as vineyards. When we reached the village of Spitz, we left the bus and boarded a boat to take us up the river to Melk.
The river part of the trip is about 1 ½ hours long. The autumn leaves are in full color on the banks of the river, and the scenery flowing by is serene. When we arrive in Melk, we take a short coach ride up to the Abbey.
This Benedictine Abbey sits above the town of Melk on a small stone outcropping overlooking the Danube. There has been an abbey here since 1089. The current Baroque Abbey is much newer, built around 1702. But even this building is not all original; the monastery caught fire in 1974 and underwent restoration from 1978 – 1995.
We spend about two hours with our guide walking through the rooms, courtyards, chapels, and grounds of the Abbey learning about the history of the Abbey and its connection to Melk and the surrounding area.
As the afternoon grows to an end, we all board the bus and make the drive back to Vienna.
Tours of the Wachau Valley, Danube, and Melk from Vienna are available nearly every day and in several languages. Depending on the season, you can add wine tasting! The cost (without wine tasting) is around 80 € per adult.
Day 11: Mozart
Mozart lived in Vienna from 1781 – 1788 and spent his most productive years 1784 – 1787 (in terms of earnings from his work) living with his wife and children in the apartment. This apartment and the building are now known as Mozarthaus Vienna.
You start your tour on the third floor and move down through the levels while viewing and reading about Mozarts time in Vienna, his music and in particular, his operas.
Mozart’s apartment on the first floor of the building has been fitted out to appear as it would have when he lived here. The apartment was grand by the standards of the day and included four large rooms, two small rooms, and a kitchen.
Mozart was a musical genius and like most, a bit over the top at times. This lovely little museum helped me understand more about the man and the times in which he lived.
Mozarthaus is open daily, and a ticket will run you 11€. The museum is a self-guided tour. For an additional cost, there is an “audio guide” available.
Day 12: Our Last Day
Today is our last day in Vienna and here in Central Europe. Tomorrow we fly back to London and then home to San Francisco. We spend the day doing rather mundane tasks. DH heads over to the “Turkish” neighborhood to get a haircut and shave. Ever since his first visit to a Turkish barber, he insists they are the best!
On my own for a few hours, I take a walk around the old town enjoying the sites and people watching. I take a few more photos and stop by a pastry shop for one last decadent delight. Later we pack.
Cultural Connections – Prague, Budapest, and Vienna
These three cities: Prague, Budapest, and Vienna are all wonderful examples of old-world Imperial Cities in Central Europe.
Of the three, Prague is a quieter city and runs at a slower pace. A traveler is invited to slow down and enjoy the beauty that surrounds them.
Budapest is up and coming. Having had maybe the most challenging road to travel of these three cities, Budapest is now standing up, brushing itself off and showing its beauty to the world.
Vienna is still a significant capital city welcoming the world at its bi-annual Trade Fair. The 21st Century hustle and bustle are definitely felt here, but it all takes place in the grandeur of the 18th Century palaces and architecture.