Somewhere halfway through the river cruise along the Danube last April, we landed in Vienna, the capital city of Austria and famous for being an artistic hub for musical geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven to thrive in. It’s famous for its rich, cultural museums, along with imperial palaces, one of which, the Schöbrunn, we visited when in the city for the day.
My parents and I started off our day in Vienna with a local sightseeing tour around the Ringstrasse, aka “Ring Road,” which is a major street that pretty much goes in a circle around the city. Along the way, we saw the Opera House and the city hall, the latter looking, surprisingly, more like a basilica than an actual place for administrative and political affairs. After about an hour’s drive around and viewing the city from the bus seat, we got off and, with a local guide, made our way to the Hofburg Palace, the imperial palace of the Habsbug dynasty whose rule expanded from the 11th century all the way to the early 20th century. How incredible is that?
Aside from admiring the grand, imposing architecture of the palace, we also made our way around to its horse stables, which are supposedly quite famous for where the Spanish Riding School has its practices and is a cultural and historical part of the city. The horses are of the Lipizzan breed, which is specifically associated with the riding school, having originally come from a blend of Arab, Spanish, and other breeds. Every year, they perform in the Hofburg Palace, in a classical dressage that, from what I heard from our tour guide, is a sight to see. Of course, we didn’t get to see the performance, but I can imagine it must be fancy as heck (not to forget super expensive!).
We continued to tour Vienna, wandering through several narrow pedestrian streets before arriving and strolling along the Graben, one of the famous streets in the city center with tons of statues and fountains (one of which the Pestsäule, aka “plague column,” stands mighty and tall to commemorate the lives lost during the Great Plague in the 17th century). Along the way, our tour guide told us a lot about the history and culture of Vienna, let alone Austria.
I got to learn a lot about the Austrian monarchy, especially about Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife, Empress Elizabeth, aka “Sissi,” from the 19th century. Empress “Sissi” was quite a character back in the day, having not only been powerful in creating the Austrian-Hungarian empire, but also personally was obsessed with maintaining her health and figure throughout her years, taking part in weird daily regimes regarding exercising and eating habits that made her rather an urban myth during her lifetime. I learned more about her when visiting the Schöbrunn Palace later that afternoon, but until then, I had remained astounded by such an interesting historical figure: just as interesting as Ludwig II of Bavaria!
Another distinctive part of Vienna (Austria, in general) is its coffee culture, i.e. Viennese coffee house, which dates all the way back to the 17th century. Essentially, it’s where people can go into a coffee house for, of course, a cup of coffee, with a small shot of water on the side in case it gets too strong. There, people can read the newspaper, socialize and philosophize with peers, or enjoy traditional desserts such as the sacher torte. My parents and I would head over to a coffee house after the tour for the experience, which would be a good decision to make (those heavenly pastries are still calling out to me…).
We ended the tour in front of the Stephansdom, or St. Stephen’s Cathedral, this one being one of the tallest ones in Europe, if not in the world. We popped inside for a quick look of the interior (not too shabby) before heading out and, with the rest of the day free, my parents and I decided to go to a coffee house for lunch and to see what the Viennese coffee culture was all about. Settling on Café Demel, a well-known and well-established one in Vienna, we ordered coffee (hot chocolate for me; I don’t drink coffee), along with some small sandwiches and some of its pastry selections. I opted for a fächertorte, a dense, layered cake consisting of apple, walnuts, and poppy seeds. Usually, I’m not a fan of apple-based food, but that one proved to be quite good, if not absolutely decadent! Paired with my rich hot chocolate (generously topped with whipped cream), I certainly enjoyed my coffee house experience…even if the bill didn’t say so!
Our stomachs satisfied, we made our way back to the city hall for some quick photos of the exterior before deciding to take the metro to the Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty. It turned out to be quite a hot day in April, as we exited the metro stop upon arrival and walked over to the palace from there. At the ticket office, we opted for the 40-room tour of the palace, although there are some odd 1,400-plus rooms in total, which boggles my mind. We got a look into the bedrooms and courtrooms of the royal family, places where Emperor Joseph I and “Sissi” once lived in. Certainly was opulent, to say the least, although I wouldn’t say that it could compare to other palaces I’ve visited (frankly, Versailles has spoiled me). After touring the inside, we headed out to the gardens, with flowers just starting to bloom for the spring. We wandered around the expansive area, and I decided to make a quick visit to the Gloriette, an arched structure situated on top of the palace hill where the Schöbrunn had originally intended to be built. It wasn’t too bad of a climb up to the top, and from there, I could get some views of Vienna, along with the palace itself.
Eventually, we were done with the Schöbrunn Palace for the day; we took the metro back to the city center before walking back to our ship along the Danube, arriving back at 17h00 and resting in our respective cabins for the day.
Overall, the visit to Vienna was only for one day, but all the same, it was a decent amount of time to see the highlights of what the city had to offer. Personally, it wasn’t my favorite city to have visited, just because it was too big and overwhelming. Nevertheless, I found the cultural-historical center to be absolutely beautiful and charming, and it was nice to have made the stop over to check it out.
Coming up: Bratislava, Slovakia!