Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We woke up to a dusting of snow on the van and around the campsite. Snow kept popping up in the forecast so we weren't completely surprised, but we found it strange to have cool weather so early in the year. We bundled up in many layers because there was a wind blowing making it feel around -5oC. We set off for the Spanish Horse Riding School to see the Lipizzaner stallions perform. We had standing room tickets and got a good spot towards the end of the ring at the first railing. There is only one row of seats in front and people are allowed to stand behind the seats or raised up a bit on steps behind the walkway. We had a mostly clear view except for when a man put his small daughter on his shoulders which blocked parts of the ring. Luckily he couldn’t hold her up there for the full 1.5 hours so we were ok. The Winter Riding Ring was an incredible building and it was quite something to see all the horses performing in something so grand. The stallions themselves were amazing. They started off the show with the new stallions and we got to see the earlier stages of their training – some definitely did not want to follow the program! We then saw several smaller groups of 3-4 horses perform various manoeuvres in sync with each other. Halfway through they had 4 groups showing the various stages of training; some were working on a short rein, others were riding. There was one horse working with two trainers on the ground; one was holding the reins and the other was using the whip to flick the back feet making the horse go up on his hind legs. We got to see the progression of that training later as the horses who were being ridden would rear up on his back legs and then hop forward – quite an amazing sight! We also got to see work on the long rein which meant the rider was standing directly behind the horse and asking it to walk, trot and perform various patterns (this is a very advanced level of training and requires a great degree of trust between horse and rider; if the horse were to buck, it could be fatal for the rider). At the very end, all eight riders were in the ring and they performed beautiful patterns. They weaved in and out of each other so perfectly and we could only imagine the amount of time it would take to train them and have everything so well coordinated. We really enjoyed the show and were glad we had gone.

Afterwards we went to the Hofburg Imperial Apartments. The ground floor held an incredible collection of dishes used to prepare and serve meals for the royal family and guests. We loved all the copper pots, fish cooking pans, menu samples and tea kettles. From the items used to prepare the meals, we continued on to those used to serve them. We saw enormous sets of silverware and dishes as well as all the table decorations that would have been there during meal times. The napkin folding displays were also quite something. We learned that there was a particular napkin fold, in the shape of swan, that is used only by the Habsburgs. It is still used today for state dinners and the technique is still a closely guarded secret, only known by two people. The napkin required to make the swan fold measures more than 1 m square!

Once we finished on the lower floor, we headed upstairs to the Imperial Apartments themselves and the Sisi museum. We weren’t allowed to take pictures upstairs which sped things up considerably! The museum had an interesting collection of items from Empress Elizabeth’s (Sisi) life and explained about her marriage to Franz Joseph I, her life as a reclusive Empress and her eventual stabbing while on holiday. We thought the apartments were incredible and admired all the furnishings.

We then headed over to the Vienna opera to wait in line for standing room tickets. Our guidebook had told us that they went on sale 80 minutes before the performance and if you were there early enough you could stand in the parterre section and be right at eye level with the stage. We decided to try it out and see "La Clemenza di Tito". Our tickets cost a grand total of 4 € each and we filed in with all the others. We found a spot at the rail and stood there while the lady explained that you should tie something around the rail to mark your spot. Not having brought anything with us (and already having checked our bags), the lady standing beside us kindly offered us several lengths of ribbon to wrap around it. We thanked her and then headed out to explore the lobby. The Vienna opera house is quite beautiful and elaborate compared with other theatres we have visited. The seats are arranged in horseshoe shape around the stage and there are 6 levels of seating. There is the parterre section, 3 levels of boxes and then 2 levels of regular seating with more standing room spots at the back and sides. We had an excellent view and were dead centre. The standing room area is on a slope, too, so that you aren’t staring into people’s heads and the railings make it possible to stand for that long. Each standing spot also has a personal electronic screen that provides translations. We quite enjoyed the performance although felt it would have been better if they hadn’t modernized the set. The singing was incredible and the opera theater was hard to beat!

October 29

We woke up to even more snow today and decided we were glad we had more indoor sights to see. We stopped off at Schönbrunn palace to take a few pictures while it wasn’t raining. We didn’t wander around too long since it was rather grey and cold, so not ideal for wandering the grounds. The palace itself was closed for the day so we planned on returning later to see the inside. We then hopped back on the metro and went to the Hofburg Treasury where we spent the next few hours admiring the collection of crowns, jewels, robes and religious artefacts. It was an amazing collection and well worth a visit.

We then wandered back down the main street towards the opera. We stopped along the way for a frankfurter. You can get them “hotdog” style which means they take an enormous bun, put it on a special machine which hollows it out and warms the bun at the same time. Then they pour in ketchup & mustard if you want and stuff the frankfurter inside. We decided this was a much improved method for eating a hotdog since there is no way for your fingers to get all gooey with ketchup and it doesn’t drip out the bottom! They were delicious and we returned the following two days as well. Anoop decided he was still peckish so we wandered over to the kebap stand where he had enjoyed a kebap box the night before. He asked for the same thing, thinking his German was much improved and was surprised when he was given a kebap in a pita instead… We figured he asked for a box and they heard “brot” for bread instead; it was tasty anyhow!

We then headed back to the Vienna Opera house since we had decided to see a modern ballet there and try out their 8€ seats. We were on the 5th level towards the right hand side. We couldn’t see what was happening at the rightmost of the stage, but didn’t mind since we could then watch the orchestra. The ballet was made up of four smaller ballets and we quite enjoyed them. Our favourite was the last one as it was a comedic piece and very well done. We also explored the other rooms of the opera house which we hadn’t seen the previous night. Some of the rooms where they served intermission drinks were quite incredible and we enjoyed wandering around them. We also noticed that there was a coat check on each floor, and sometimes even two! They were also free which we thought was a nice touch since it meant you weren’t squished in to your seat with jackets and other stuff if you or the people around you hadn’t wanted to pay.

October 30

We headed in to town and walked past the Opera, with lots of "Mozarts” trying to sell you tickets to various evening shows. Bypassing them, we walked over to the Mozart statue and admired all the various poses of the tourists while waiting for them to clear out. We headed in to the Kunsthistorisches museum which has the Habsburgs’ collection of artwork. We set off to admire the highlights of the collection while bypassing some of the styles which we were not as fond of. We particularly enjoyed the works by Bruegel. We then headed downstairs to see the collection of Egyptian and Roman artifacts and an incredible coin collection. We felt rather exhausted after such a huge museum, but enjoyed seeing such an amazing collection in a beautiful building.

We then continued on our walking tour while making our way over to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, or as the locals call it, Stephansdom. It had a beautiful roof done in different coloured tiles. We only went in to the non-paying part since admission was quite pricey and we’ve seen some rather incredible cathedrals so far. We walked around the outside and admired the architecture. Once done, we stopped off at a mini-sandwich shop which was mentioned in our guidebook. Anoop picked up two to try out as a snack. Vienna is known for its coffee houses so we decided to splurge on a coffee and treat at café Demel, one of the better known places as it used to cater to the royal residence in days past. We ordered an incredible chocolate torte that went excellently with a cappuccino (served with a huge pile of whipped cream!). It was amazing! The café was neat because you could walk in to the back room and watch the chefs preparing chocolates and cake toppings for the next day from behind the glass. They also had lots of displays of chocolates in the shop with really pretty packaging.

We then headed off to the Opera once again. This time we opted for the 3€ standing room spots on the top level. We decided that the view was good even though we were really high up and we enjoyed a bit more room beside and behind us since there was more space between the rails in the higher levels. This time I remembered to keep my scarf with me so we could reserve our spot. We went to the “Barber of Seville” which we had seen in the spring in Vancouver. It was fun to see a different production of it since the costumes and sets were different. It was just as much fun as we had remembered and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening.

October 31

We returned to Schönbrunn palace to explore the grounds and the inside. Schönbrunn was used as a summer residence by the Habsburgs and it was huge. There were 1441 rooms, but we toured about 40 of them. The royal apartments were quite amazing and we really enjoyed seeing the various ways in which they were decorated and furnished by the various rulers. We also saw the room where Mozart first performed when he was six years old. After our tour of the inside, we headed out to the grounds and headed up the small hill to see the Gloriette, a decorative monument. We had great views looking back on the palace as well. The fall colours were beautiful and we enjoyed walking among the leaves while looking at all the fountains and statues.

We then headed to the Imperial Furniture Collection. Since palaces were only furnished when they were being used, there was a huge depot of beds, chairs, desks, hat stands etc. When a palace or room needed to be furnished for guests, orders would be sent to the depot and whatever was needed would be brought out of storage. Now the museum houses exhibits of rooms furnished in various styles as well as what the depot could have looked like when actually in use. I started working my way through everything while Anoop zipped off down the road to the store to exchange his sandals. He had picked up pair in Innsbruck for the showers and when he tried them on at Sue’s, realized that the new pair they had given him didn’t fit! One was 1 cm smaller than the other which meant his foot didn’t fit in it. Luckily they were able to exchange it for him and he rejoined me part way through.

We then continued our visit at the Ancient Instruments and Armour museum as it was part of our ticket and we felt that even a quick visit was better than no visit. We saw a neat collection of old instruments with many experiments also displayed. The audio guide was neat because you could listen to descriptions of the instruments as well as listen to clips of several of them being played. We continued on with the armour collection and were amazed at how intricate some of it was. Others were much more practical and actually could have been used in battle rather than as decoration. We even got to see some armour for the horses.

As it was our last night in Vienna, we decided to take the Ring tram and head around the town at dark to see the various buildings lit up. The “rathaus” or town hall was particularly impressive. The square in front of it was filled with stalls being assembled for the Christmas market starting at the end of November. We thought it would be a really neat spot to have a market and could imagine all the yummy smells coming out of the booths and wandering past all the items for sale.

We then headed back to camp feeling rather exhausted by our day, but content to have seen so much! Vienna was an amazing city and we would definitely go back to explore more.

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