Thursday, May 26th 2016
We have made a short visit to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, spending two nights here and the days that include them, discounting the time spent travelling. As our stay was so short, we could not expect to explore Vienna thoroughly but just to grab a few impressions that might or might not encourage us to come back for a longer period.
I do not speak German, nor does Tigger. Despite this, we had no difficulties travelling around the city, visiting museums and galleries or transacting necessary business in shops, restaurants and the hotel. Practically everyone we approached spoke English, at least well enough for the purpose and often very well indeed. In fact, people seemed to take a certain pleasure in talking to us in English, engaging us in conversation beyond the immediate needs of the particular situation. Many public notices were in both German and English (and sometimes French) and on public transport, all announcements, other than those just stating the name of the next stop, were in both German and English.
What we call ‘Vienna’ the Austrians call ‘Wien’. We may approximate its pronunciation in standard German as ‘veen’, rhyming with ‘seen’ and ‘mean’. In the local Austrian dialect, the pronunciation may be slightly different but my lack of German disqualifies me from further discussion of that.
The Eurostar has not yet reached Vienna and so we reluctantly took to the air. We took off from Heathrow on BA flight BA0702 at 11:40 am and touched down at Vienna at 14:55 local time, which is an hour ahead of UK summer time, i.e. the duration of the flight was 2 hours 15 minutes.
As the airport is on the outskirts of the city and our hotel was in town, we chose the lazy solution and boarded a taxi. The journey was quite long and by the time we had included a small tip in addition to the stated fare, we parted with €50 (about £40 or $56). We made a firm decision to find other means by which to return to the airport!
On reaching our slab-fronted hotel, called the Exe Vienna Hotel, we found the staff welcoming and fluent in English. Vienna was enjoying something of a heat wave and so the room’s air-conditioning was welcome. Wifi was provided free for the duration of our stay – something that other more pinch-penny hotels might like to take note of.
We had been given brunch on the aeroplane but that had been just a snack and so we set out to look for a more substantial repast. Across the road from the hotel we saw the Cafe Monaco and went in to take a look. There we made a startling discovery: there were ashtrays on the tables!
It turns out that in 2009 Austria passed a law under which smoking is banned in public places, as is the case in Europe generally. However, cafes and restaurants, and their customers made such a fuss about this, claiming it would destroy Vienna’s ‘cafe culture’, that they were exempted until May 2018, ostensibly to give them time to prepare. Establishments that convert to the smokeless regime before the deadline will receive a bonus relating to their expenses in setting up smoking and non-smoking areas.
We just had coffee here and them resumed our ramble through the city, looking for interesting sights and, of course, something to eat.
We eventually took a chance on a Turkish restaurant that we discovered. I failed to note the name but according to my Qstaz travel recorder it was in Freidmanngasse. It had an open courtyard which was quite pleasant in this warm weather. Turkish eateries provide a handy refuge for vegetarians in difficulties as their menus contain many items suitable for vegetarians and even vegans. Also, I have a special fondness for Turkish tea.
We set out to ramble more or less at random, photographing anything that caught our attention. Unfortunately, when describing the things we saw I am at a disadvantage because online they are mostly described, if at all, in German. As an additional obstacle, Google Street View is banned in Austria, it seems, making it difficult for me to check the exact locations of places and buildings as an aid to finding out about them.
The above photo shows, partly hidden by a railway bridge, the Catholic Church at Breitenfeld, the latter word being the name of the parish it serves. Catholic churches are numerous in the city, unsurprisingly as Catholicism has always been by far the largest religion in Austria. In Vienna in 1951, Catholics counted for over 80% of the population but since then the situation has changed with the numbers of Catholics declining and the numbers of those not committed to any religion increasing commensurately. It is difficult to say what the current situation is because the Austrian census has not included a question on religious affiliation since 2001 but it seems likely that the trend has continued.
We worked our way west across the city and reached a large square called Stephansplatz or, as we might call it in English, St Stephen’s Square.
Stephansplatz is really just the flat surface that surrounds Stephansdom also known as Domkirche St Stephan or, in our way of expressing things, the Cathedral of St Stephen. The above picture shows the façade containing the main entrance. The black (blank) areas bottom left and right are the result of my combining three photos that had not originally been taken for that purpose and therefore did not fit together quite as well as I would have liked. Still, it gives some idea of the view.
The Cathedral was commissioned in 1137 and dedicated to St Stephen in 1147. Building was not finished after a mere decade and work continued through expansion and reconstruction into the 16th century. Maintenance and repairs continue to the present day as cathedrals tend to be time-consuming and expensive to maintain.
There are many decorative and commemorative features around the exterior of the building, added at various dates.
Outside stands this bronze model of the Cathedral though I was unable to determine who made it and when.
One of the facilities provided in Vienna for tourists are the horse-drawn carriages. There are stands for these at various places in the city and one beside the Cathedral.
The carriages are called ‘fiakers’ (from the French ‘fiacre’). The drivers make some attempt to dress in a uniform but many fail more or less completely. There are several companies running fiakers which take passengers on a tour of the city.
If you let your eye follow the horses’ tails downwards, you will see behind each a tan-coloured bucket-shaped object resting on a support. Its purpose is, not to put too fine a point on it, to catch anything that might be ejected from the horse’s rear end. Notwithstanding this hygienic arrangement, the air carried a very noticeable stench of horse dung. I have no idea how much it costs to take a tour in a fiaker as we preferred to continue on Shanks’ pony, if you forgive the pun.
Looking down Goldschmiedgasse, we saw a green-domed structure which looked interesting.
A closer view reveals it to be Peterskirche, the Church of St Peter. The Baroque-style parish church was built in the early decades of the 18th century (1701-33). It is quite hard to photograph as it is very compact (having been established on a relatively small site) and is hemmed in by buildings all around it.
On the outside of the church there is a plaque in relief. This represents the supposed founding by Charlemagne in AD 800 of the second of the three churches to have existed on this site. It is by Rudolf Weyr (1847-1914) who created a number of Vienna’s neo-Baroque sculptures.
We walked along a street called Graben which apparently means ‘trench’ though it doesn’t seem particularly trench-like. One of the more famous monuments found here is the Pestsäule or Plague Column. It commemorates the Great Plague epidemic that struck the city in 1679. A wooden column was raised when the epidemic ended and the permanent monument in marble was commissioned in 1683. The latter is nominally ascribed to Paul Strudel but contains the work of several sculptors.
This is Leopoldsbrunnen (‘Leopold’s Fountain’), which took its name after Leopold I ordered the two fountains in Graben to be decorated with statues of St Leopold and St Joseph, respectively. They were sculpted in stone by Johann Frühwirth (1640-1701) who had also made the wooden forerunner of the Pestsäule mentioned above. The current versions of the saintly statues, installed in 1804, were made in lead by Johann Martin Fischer (1740-1820). The original stones sculptures are now lost.
The second figure beside St Leopold is a putto and the saint is looking at a document showing a drawing of the Klosterneuburg Abbey which he founded. My favourites details, though, are the two lion heads acting a water spouts for the fountain.
At the eastern end of Graben, we found this ornate doorway with the sole word ‘EQUITABLE’ above it. It turns out that the building to which it belongs was constructed in 1887-91 for the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States and named the Palais Equitable. Founded in 1869 the company was finally bought out by AXA in 2004. I am not sure why its Vienna HQ would have a French name. Then again, why not?