Monday, 8 February 2016

Vienna - Coffee & Cake, Horses and Dinosaurs

Vienna - Day 1
From Conegliano in Italy (see the previous Blog) we travelled on the overnight express to Vienna, arriving there before 8.  From the main station it was just a 2 stop ride on the underground and we were at our hotel in the heart of the old city, almost beside the cathedral.  After a shower we felt refreshed and ready to tackle the main attractions of inner Vienna which we had seen briefly in December 2012 (you can find the Blog in the "archive" index).
St Stephan's Cathedral.  Our hotel is on the right
of the building at the right of the frame.

The beautiful patterned tile roof of the cathedral
was restored after bomb damage in WW2.

This peculiar column is the Pestsäule or "Plague Column" erected
after the Great Plague in 1679.  Many central European cities
and towns have such a column - but it's usually much less ornate.

The top section of the Pestsäule is unusually ornate

At the end of the street looms just a small portion of the expansive Hopburg.

Beautiful old buildings in the "Graben" shopping mall.

Not a table decoration for a ball, but a showpiece for a "cakeshop" window.

Inside the famous "Demel" pastry shop and chocolaterie.  It was
 established in 1786 and became a "Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court"

When in Vienna  ... drink coffee and eat cake like the Viennese.  Delicious!
The Hofburg and the Spanish Riding School
The Imperial Palace, the "Hofburg" is a large and meandering collection of buildings which now house a variety of museums, galleries and other institutions.  Probably the most famous is the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  Its proud claim is that it is "the only institution in the world which has practiced for nearly 450 years and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the Haute Ecole".  As much as we would have liked to see a performance, it was not possible.  Horses and riders were enjoying their winter break and the only activity was the "Morning Exercise with Music".  So that's what we had to be content with - just a suggestion and a taste of what a full performance might bring (of course the shop will happily sell you a DVD of a typical performance).

 Although it is permitted to take photographs of the training and performance venue. cameras are forbidden during the exercise time - supposedly so that flashes and noisy shutters do not frighten the horses. 

I did manage one quick (and not very good shot, no flash and no sound which might alarm the horse) of a horse and rider entering the venue before putting the camera away until the training session had finished.

The school has been in existence since at least 1572 (the first recorded mention) and was so named as Spanish horses (the Lipizzaner) have been used for much of its existence.  The present performance venue was built between 1729 and 1735 for Emperor Charles VI.   It is a very ornate building, although by the standards of the day its decoration was quite restrained.

The hall is 55 meters long and 18 meters wide.
The Royal Box is at the far end, opposite the
entrance above which this picture was taken.
The figurines on sale in the Gift Shop show the uniforms worn by the riders.

Spanish Riding School Lippizan stallions in the Winter Riding School arena.
Photo by "sparre" (2003), uploaded to Wikipedia

The Hofburg has been the seat of government since the 13th century and it has been expaned many times.  The section of the Hofburg containing the Riding School is entered from Michaeler Platz.  You pass through the huge arch into a large covered way which originally provided a covered entrance to the Royal Apartments.  Now you can enter the School or Museums.   Continuing through this huge undercover entrance foyer and carriage way you exit through another large archway (below) into a large courtyard.

The exit from the covered carriageway into the inner courtyard.

On the exterior façade and in the courtyard the large gateway
is flanked by large statues of mythological heroes.
This could be Hercules again - he's often seen clubbing people.
The inner courtyard in the Hofburg Palace complex.
Emperor Franz I stands out in the cold.

The "new castle" section (1881 - 1913)

The Museum Quarter
Walking to the south-west you leave the Hofburg Palace complex and arrive at the famous "Ring", the broad road which was built around Vienna when the long obsolete medieval city wall was demolished in 1857.  In its place the Emperor ordered a ring of broad avenues, along which the new civic and cultural buildings were to be erected.

Crossing the Ring Road we entered the "Museum Quartier" which is an area of about 60,000 square meters, making it the eighth largest cultural area in the world.  On either side of a square dominated by a statue of the Empress Maria Theresien are two museums which were built between 1872 and 1891 with identical facades.  One housed the Museum for Art History, and the other which was opened in 1889 is the Museum of Natural History.  As we had, or were about to visit othe Art galleries and Museum we toured the latter museum.  The museum building itself is a work of art, worthy of preservation, and it houses a large collection of minerals and precious stones, the largest display collection of meteorites in the world, an impressive dinosaur gallery with large animatronic displays and many other collections.  Portions of the collections date back to Renaissance collections maintained by rulers or passionate (and rich) collectors.

The Museum of Art History seen from its "twin", the Museum of Natural History.
Along the façade are statues representing the
continents - here "America and Australia".
The entrance foyer is impressive in itself.

The work of art in the foyer was "um ... er ...interesting!" and defied description!
The false dome above foyer with opening to the upper levels of the museum.
The splendid staircase to the upper levels.
A particularly beautiful mineral specimen

Just two of many impressive skeletal exhibits in the Dinosaur exhibition.

The coffee shop /cafe is on the upper level beneath
the main dome with a view down to the foyer.  
The dome of the museum building.

From the Museum of Natural History we walked along the Ring, past parks and civic buildings until we reached the "Wiener Staatsoper" (the Vienna State Opera) where we joined a tour of the building which was opened in 1869 and extensively rebuilt after WW2 to repair major damage sustained in a bombing raid on May 1st, 1945.  It reopened in 1955 with a performance of Beethoven's "Fidelio" which was the opera being to be performed on the evening of our visit.

Visitors gather in the entrance hall waiting for a tour in one of several languages.
Several composers famously associated with Viennese musical life
 are commemorated by busts high up near the ceiling.  Some are
no longer well known, but Beethoven's "star" has never faded!

Decoration in the entrance hall.
Beautiful decoration along the passage ways and stair cases

Technicians and stage hands install sets for the evening's performance of Fidelio.
There is a different opera or ballet every night, so each day the stage is reset.

A section of the beautiful auditorium
Visiting "famous people"
Vienna has long enjoyed a reputation as a city with a fine appreciation of the arts and many of its composers, musicians, poets and writers are recognised by statues, busts or names of streets and public places.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Poet, dramatist, scientific writer and statesman. 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Composer, performer, musical genius

Franz Joseph I
Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia.
President of the German Confederation (1856-1866)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Composer and pianist.

Vienna after dark
We were fortunate to see Vienna wearing its Christmas lights and decorations as they came down just after we left.  The streets looked particularly beautiful at night.

Vienna by night

The "Graben" pedestrian mall

Decorations along "Rotenturm Strasse"
(Red Tower Street)

The view into the pedestrian mall from our hotel window.
That was just our first day - there's a lot more of Vienna still to come.

Paul & Judy
January 2016

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