May 14 – Vienna
What a difference some stories make. We managed to do a walking tour today and some information and guided roaming turned yesterday’s itsty-bitsy day into something far more enjoyable.
The day was already off to a good start because I got out for a run. Leaving Steve to his slumber once more, I headed out early for a trot around the Augarten, Vienna’s oldest Baroque park. I looped around the outside and down the avenues of trees and spotted another squirrel for an added bonus. The longer I ran, the more runners came out and we passed each other along the many paths. I kept spotting runners coming from tracks and paths to my side. ‘Where did you come from?’ I wondered, ‘and where does that path go to?’ So I tailed a runner here and there and followed them along paths to discover new parts of the park. It was a really nice place to run and great to get some kilometres in the legs again. Steve came out at the end to take a snap.
We set off for another attempt at a walking tour, after yesterday’s didn’t really work out. It was looking good because the group of us waiting at the meeting point was small, so we thought it would be much better than yesterday and easier to hear the guide. Then, things didn’t work out because at the start time, someone else arrived to tell us the tour was cancelled because the guide was sick. Oh dear. So, we quickly jumped on Google to look for other walking tours and found one that was leaving from the same place in half an hour. Ripper! We waited for that and it turned out great.
While we’d been waiting for our tour, we saw the Monument Against War and Fascism, which was really quite moving. The monument stands on the site of an apartment building that was destroyed by an air raid on March 12, 1945 and hundreds died who had been taking shelter in its cellar. It was deemed an appropriate site for a monument against war and fascism. At the centre is the Gate of Violence and is made from Mauthausen granite, identical to the stone that thousands of prisoners were forced to carry up the Steps of Death at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. On top of that sits the sculpture, Hinterland Front that recalls the Nazi mass-murders in prisons and concentration camps, as well as those killed during the Resistance.
Particularly moving, I thought, was The Street-washing Jew, a bronze statue depicting a man on his knees, scrubbing the street, as Jewish men and women were forced to do, following Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in March 1938. On the back of the figure is barbed wire, recalling the treatment of Jews by the Nazis.
When the tour started, even though the group was fairly big, our guide was terrific and she took us to quiet places to talk to us, so we could all hear the stories and history she shared. We went along the main thoroughfares we’d been yesterday, but she also took us into some back lanes and quieter areas we hadn’t seen, which was great. It was a really good tour, with some interesting information and it really helped to paint a picture of the city and give us some much needed information and back-story to the places and sites we’d seen. It’s always great to hear a story or two and learn the history of a place and it really did make all the difference. If you’d like to share in some of the stories of Vienna, here are some tidbits:
Franz Joseph was the Emperor of Austria prior to World War 1 and he had his fair share of tragedy and difficulties. He lost most of his immediate family, who either died, committed suicide or were murdered. His brother was the Emperor of Mexico and he was executed, his wife, the Empress Elisabeth, was assassinated and his son killed himself after murdering his girlfriend. His son was his only heir and so when he committed suicide, Franz Joseph’s nephew stepped up to be next in line, but his nephew was…Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who we know was assassinated in Sarajevo, setting in motion the series of events that led to WWI.
Austria used to be part of something akin to the British Empire and its Emperor and monarchy ruled over multiple nations, including Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Spain and Croatia. Before WWI, nationalism was on the rise though and countries wanted their own borders. This left the multinational empire in difficulties and traditional allegiances began to crumble. Austria became a republic and ended up 1/16 the size it had been, with it no longer having the reach and control over many other nations.
After WWII Austria was divided amongst the allies, just as Germany was, with areas being divided between Britain, France and Russia. Unlike Germany though, the Russian section did not become communist. The Russians said they would not force communism on them on one condition, and that was that they become a neutral nation, so they could not take military action against any other nation or get involved in the military actions of others. Since then, like Switzerland, Austria has remained neutral, although unlike Switzerland who is neutral by choice, Austria became neutral as a condition imposed on it.
The Empress Maria Therese of Austria, she of the sixteen children, decided she wanted to make France an ally, because at the time of her rule France was Austria’s biggest enemy. Her strategy for creating an ally of her enemy in the easiest and most convenient way, was by marriage. So, with sixteen children she had quite a few match-making opportunities and married her kids off to various royal households, forging alliances and political advantageous relationships. The most famous of these was when she married off her daughter Marie, who became Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, who herself ended up with a few difficulties of her own! There are so many connections amongst all these people!
A bit more backstory to the Mozart mass grave story from yesterday. It seems our Wolfgang was a bit of a lad and something of a vain and rascally sort of lad. At one stage of his symphonic career, he was quite a wealthy chap, making his money by performing concerts here, there and everywhere at every opportunity and giving piano lessons to the daughters of the rich and aristocratic. This left him with a pretty penny or two, but Wolf wasn’t savvy with his money, no savings or retirement plan for him, oh no. Live it up! Spend big! Life of the party! Such was his approach to life. He spent a lot of money on wigs, fine clothes, booze, drugs and throwing lavish parties, so much so that at the time of his death he was pretty much penniless. His wife either couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for a funeral and as a result the Wolfster ended up buried in one of those six-to-a-plot graves, somewhere in Vienna. There are lots of monuments to him about the city because no one really knows where his final resting place is.
Like other towns and cities in Europe, Vienna has a plague column. This one has an image of God at the top because the folks figured if they didn’t create something to worship God after their city was finally rid of the plague, then that plague might just find its way back again. This column though is also considered something of a “propaganda monument” because while there’s an image of God at the top, the Emperor popped himself in there, in the middle of the column, representing himself as a go-between God and the people, to let everyone know that he helped banish the plague, so he should darn well be thanked. It’s his own “look at me, look at me, look at me” statue.
The Winter Palace was the home to the Habsburger monarchy who ruled Austria and its empire for 640 years. Different parts of the palace are designed in different styles, because they ruled for so long, they spanned many different architectural periods and each new generation wanted the latest “modern design” when a new wing was being built. So, when you stand in a courtyard, each of the three sides in front of you will have a different facade, from the various time periods in which they were built. That’ll happen when you have a multi-century dynasty!
The Winter Palace, in the centre of the city, is the residence for the current President of Austria and when the flag’s flying, he’s at home.
So there you go…a few fun facts and a story or two. It was freezing cold and we all shivered, including our guide. “I am in my winter coat in May, it feels very odd,” she told us. She also told us about the big coffee culture in Vienna and the importance of coffee houses as meeting places. “But,” she shared, “we are very introverted people. If you go to a coffee house and there are two people in there, they will be sitting at opposite ends of the room. We didn’t invent psychoanalysis for nothing!”
After an enjoyable guided roam, with some learnin’ and some laughs, we were ready for some lunch. We went to Venuss, a vegan bistro and I had some very nice ratatouille with a side of smoked cauliflower and Steve had some seitan, spinach and broccoli strudel and some extra vegetables. We love it when we find places like that, not just because it’s vegan food, but it just takes the exhaustion out of getting food and navigating the language barrier again. It means we don’t have to explain anything, which means we don’t have to be a bother or time-consuming communicators for others and we don’t have to fry our brains trying to get a message across or navigate a menu. So, at Venuss we were good to go with everything on offer and it was all delicious.
We then took the underground again out to another district to visit a vegan supermarket, just for the novelty value of going to a supermarket that’s 100% vegan. Again, it just made things so much easier, with a lot less time spent trying to decipher labels. It was pretty cool too, to know anything in there was edible for us and we had abundant choice. Novelty factor appreciated!
We rode the underground again, changing lines and people watching, picked up a couple of extra supplies along the way and made our way back to our hotel. I was ready for a cup of tea.
Well, that was a better day! It was great to roam some new areas and learn about the areas we’d already roamed. We enjoyed some nice food and took in more of Vienna, its sites and culture and continued to add more gold to our memory bank. We have one more day here, before we ride on, so another day to make some discoveries, learn some more and take in what Vienna has to offer. Another Viennese story time. Gotta love story time!
Distance ridden: 0 km
Distance run: 11.1 km
Distance roamed: 9.5 km
Weather: cold, windy, grey, a few spots of rain – just like a Tasmanian winter’s day back home really!