The Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station

The Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station is situated above ground and not at all an actual public transportation stop. Located on the edge of the Karlskirche park and operates as both an extension of the Vienna Museum and a Cafe. An incredibly beautiful example of Jugendstil architecture it is impossible to walk past the station without taking notice of it, despite the fact that it is surrounded by stunning architecture and of course St. Charles Church which puts to shame most buildings. However the two tiny defunct stations stopped me in my tracks to take an inordinate amount of pictures and then spend a good amount of time researching exactly where they came from.

The Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station – History
In the late 1800s the industrialized world was swept up in the Art Nouveau movement which appealed to individuals looking to bring more earthy lines and nature to a stark industrialized cities. The movement spread throughout Europe as artists took inspiration from one another. In 1897 Gustav Klimt started the Vienna Secession, a group of artists who set forth to bring a more international artists ideas into Austria in an attempt to dispute artistic nationalism which the local art school the Vienna Academy of Arts was so fond of. And many artists were getting tired of or feeling rejected by the more traditional artistic ideas of the time. In German speaking countries Art Nouveau movement was known as Jugendstil and through the work of the Vienna Secession and the company of artists who help positions of the group some of Vienna’s greatest buildings were imagined and brought to life.

One of the founding members of this group was Otto Wagner, an architect and city planner. Wagner at the time was known as an architect but had increasingly become interested in urban planning in the 1890s. At the same time the city government of Vienna had decided to start expanding the public transit system as the city had grown so much during the industrial boom. Wagner had been given the post of artistic counselor for various city projects related to public transit and in 1894 he hired several designers and artists to help with the public transit project.

The city gave the committee the guidelines of “… should be covered in white plaster, for uniformity, and that the style should be Renaissance, also for uniformity” and within those boundaries the Akademiestraße station was designed and opened in 1899. The station originally had two separate buildings and pavilions to account for the flow of traffic in either direction.

In 1981 the The Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station  was converted to U-Bahn and the original station was set to be demolished. However extreme public outcry forced the city to disassemble, complete the underground constructions of the U-Bahn lines and then reassemble the two buildings to create the now extension of the art museum and cafe above the large underground station. The station is now the largest U-Bahn station in the city, allowing three separate train lines to connect through and covers several city blocks under the streets.

I was of course completely obsessed with The Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station given the intricate design and details on both buildings. But unfortunately for us the holidays had both buildings closed so all we could do was peek inside the windows and try to take pictures. So after looking like crazy people the public I am sure on what was clearly the coldest day of the year so far, we eked out all the entertainment we could from staring at the two closed buildings of The Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station and made our way back to our apartment to pack for our early departure the next morning.

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The Ten Most Unique Churches in Vienna

This is my round up of the ten most unique churches in Vienna.  In reality I am sure there are many more than these specific 10 but these are the ones that  I had on my list in/near the first district where we were staying. Of the 10 I am going to cover here I sadly did not get to visit all of them due to hours and time constraints. But they were all on my list, which means I researched them so now I am going to tell you all about them.
The Ten Most Unique Churches in Vienna – 5 I Got to See Inside
First on my list of ten most unique churches in Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. St. Stephen’s is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdioceses in Vienna. The building seen today is build mostly in the Gothic style, but the church itself stands on the ruins of two earlier churches. As seen today the structure is  mostly the influence of Duke Rudolf IV which was completed in 1160. Like many churches this old it has seen fires, wars, renovations and reconstructions. Things like the original stairs were destroyed during WWII, however the church as a whole was saved due to German troops intentionally ignoring commanding officers instructions to level it before the invading Russian Army made its way into the city. It is also said that during the time of the ongoing Turkish invasion the catacombs were monitored for ground movement, evidently an invasion was staved off by a young man who noticed vibrations underground of the incoming army. The church today is one of the most popular tourists destinations, its towers provide incredible views of the city and the the uniquely tiled roofs are known world wide.
 

Second in line is St. Peter’s Catholic Church which is a contender for the oldest church in Vienna. However the building seen today was finished in 1733, making the structure that can be toured not that old at all considering the age of St. Peters mentioned below. It’s predecessor was burned to the ground in 1661 and Leopold I commissioned the new church after the city was decimated by the plague. It is an astonishingly beautiful example of Baroque interiors, floor to ceiling paintings and gilt finishing, the builder having taken inspiration from St. Peters in Rome. But the most unique thing about the church is that due to the area in which it was built, an already very crowded city, the floor plan rather than being the traditional cross shaped structure is uniquely oval.
 

My personal favorite of the ten most unique churches in Vienna is Michaelskirche. The Church of St. Michael is located near the Hofburg as an unassuming Romanesque structure. In fact I walked by it several times assuming it wasn’t the church I was looking for. But I found it luckily on a very quiet morning before the crowds woke up so that I could view the Rococo alter sculpture ‘Fall of the Angles’ by Karl Georg Merville which was installed in 1782. The sculpture was what I came for and I was so glad to find it empty except for the very kind cleaning lady who was mopping the floors, otherwise I doubt I would have gotten so close to the alter piece. Like many churches in the area it was build on the foundations of much older churches, the structure seen today is unchanged (other than upkeep) since 1792 but the tombs below which date back to the 1200s have thousands of perfectly mummified human remains due to unique conditions of the area which can be viewed on tour.

Literally right next door to The Church of St. Michael is the Augustinian Church which was the imperial church of Vienna. The relatively plain Gothic structure was built in 1339 with towering ceilings decorated only by the elaborate chandlers  has hosted the majority of the Hapsburg family weddings since its inception.  While the church does seem plain in comparison to others I found it very calming, partly because it didn’t have the same crush of tourists as many other more ornate buildings did. We sat for a bit taking it in and then took a look at the nativity scenes that had been set up for the holidays, one of which had an alarmingly large baby Jesus considering the size of his parents. A fact which struck us all as quite funny so we had to remove ourselves from the very echoing and quiet building before we got shushed.

The last of the churches that we got to enter was Kirche am Hof an extremely large church that backed up to the street we walked down daily. We never did figure out what room the odd little obtrusion was that we were so curious about each day but we did manage to sneak into the building once again with zero tourists. The church itself is huge, and fairly typical for the area. Beautiful but not overtly unique in appearance. However the facade in no way matches the interior it was built between 1386 and 1403 by the Carmelite Order in the Gothic style, but the exterior was completely rebuilt by Eleonore von Gonzaga (who also had the first palace on the site of Schonnebrunne built) in 1662 in the Baroque style. In 1773 it was a turned over and functioned as a military church but today it serves the Croation community in Vienna.
 

 
The Ten Most Unique Churches in Vienna – 5 I Didn’t Get to See Inside

The oldest (by my definition) of the ten most unique churches in Vienna is St. Rupert’s Church. It was the closest to where we were staying and on the path of quite a few other locations so we walked by it quite a bit during the two weeks we were in the city. I didn’t know about this church before we departed for our trip. It was found by happenstance while out walking and then researched as it is such a unique structure to other churches in the area. It stands out architecturally as it is often considered the oldest church in the city, though that has recently come under debate as some bits of foundations under both St. Stephen’s and St. Peter’s have been dated prior to items found within St. Ruperts. Despite the debate the church is thought to have been completed in 740, it was built in the Romanesque style and is located in the oldest part of the city known as the Roman Vindobona. It played a role as the religious center of the city until 1147 when that title was moved to St. Stephen’s and it was also the ‘Salt Office’ during the middle ages. Salt was a very lucrative and important commodity in the area at the time, more on that when I cover Salzburg.

 

Another church I very much wanted to visit was the Votivkirche but it had very limited visiting hours so we didn’t get to see the interiors. The church was dedicated in 1879 on the silver jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Sisi. An 1853 assassination attempt on Franz Josef by Hungarian nationalist János Libényi prompted the building of the church as a dedication to God for saving the emperors life. The kings brother Ferdinand Maxamillion started the campaign to raise funds across the empire for the church which was eventually built in the Neo-Gothic style by Heinrich von Ferstel a 26 year old architect who was chosen by a committee out of hundreds of applications.

Eighth on the list of ten most unique churches in Vienna is Schottenkirche, which translates into English as Scotts Church. Christianity was mainly spread throughout Europe during the middle ages by English, Scottish and Irish pilgrims. The most significant to Austria is Saint Koloman an Irish Monk who was killed in 1012. The original Schottenkirche was founded by Scotts-Benadictine monks in the 12th century, however quite a bit of the building was destroyed by fire in 1276, an earthquake in 1443 which resulted in a shoddy roof repair that collapsed in 1634. As well as lightening strike that collapsed the tower in 1638. At which time the entire building was rebuilt in the Baroque style and fully restored after the Turkish Siege.

Another church I very much wanted to visit but didn’t end up having the time for was the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The church is unique in that it is built in two tone brick with gilt archways in the Byzantine Revival style by Danish architect Theophil Hansen, which is a re-design of the original church built in 1787.  The church was allowed to be built and exist due to the Patent of Toleration issued in 1781 by Joseph II allowing religious freedom to no Catholic Christians in the Austrian Empire.

The last church on the ten most unique churches in Vienna is Karlskirche one would be remiss to not mentioned St. Charles Church. The church much like St. Peters was built as a dedication to the plague though this one was the last plague having ended in 1712. A year after the plague ended  Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor pledged to build a church in the name of Charles Borromeo, patron saint of plague suffers. The church took 21 years to build and is often said to be one of the most beautiful Baroque church in Vienna. It is also quite possibly the biggest. We went with every intention of touring but it was toward the end of the trip and it was going to be a several hour wait to even get in. So rather than touring we wandered around the rather large grounds and took pictures in the fog. Soaking up the last bit of our time in Vienna before we flew home the next day, which brings us to the conclusion of the ten most unique churches in Vienna, in my opinion given the time constraints I was dealing with.

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Central Cemetery of Vienna

It is probably a little bit weird to visit a cemetery in a county that we had no known ancestors from and especially on New Years Day. But in our defense it was a beautiful sunny day (and as I found out later frigidly cold) day and quite literally everything else was closed. So we made several switches on public transport stopped at Hundertwasserhaus house, wandered around Simmering trying to find the next train stop and eventually found our way to Central Cemetery of Vienna Austria.

Central Cemetery of Vienna – HistoryThe Central Cemetery of Vienna is one of the largest cemeteries in the world by volume of people interned. The cemetery was a planned effort by city officials in the late 1800s who saw the population of the are rabidly expanding during the industrial revolution. Worried that the present day cemeteries would not suffice, the city bough a large plot of land outside the city limits to built a large cemetery that would work for the population growth for years to come.

The cemetery was designed by Karl Jonas Myluis a landscape architect from Frankfurt and Alfred Friedrich Bluntschli and opened in 1874 with very little fanfare but quite a bit of interfaith drama. The cemetery was intended to be interdenominational but the consecration of the cemetery was met with resistance, and the inclusion of other faiths was met with displeasure from certain Roman Catholic sects.  When the city announced they didn’t want a Catholic opening celebration and instead gave significant funds to create a Jewish section in the cemetery tensions rose even higher. In the end a small Catholic ceremony was allowed in order to keep the public from really noticing and eventually everyone calmed down.

In the beginning the cemetery was fairly unpopular due to its distance from the then slightly smaller city and less common ease of transport. To help change this over the years the city has added things like grave’s of honor to help pull in tourists. As strange as that sounds you should have seen the crowds around the honorary graves of Brahms, Strauss, and Motzart.  Beethoven and Shubert were actually interned here after having been moved from Wahringer Ostfriedhof in 1888.

Over the years as the city has become more diverse the cemetery has added additional sections and places of worship for various religios faiths. In additional to the original Catholic, Protestant and Jewish sections (one of which was partially destroyed during Kristallnacht) there is an Islamic section. Russian, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox are all provided sections within the cemetery as well as Buddhist and those of the Morman faith.

 
Central Cemetery of Vienna – VisitingThe Central Cemetery of Vienna is obivously quite large and while we thought it was a very nice visit one can only spend so long wandering around grave sites. I would suggest before visiting knowing which sections or graves you wish to visit and make a plan. It is also quite easy to get lost as many of the older sections of the cemetery have mausoleums which hide pathways and site lines. For safety sake I always suggest going in groups to these types of cemeteries, in broad daylight and be careful a lot of pickpockets rob people in grave yard due to obscured site lines and few crowds.

We took the “Zentralfriedhof” stop on the Vienna S-Bahn and which stopped at two gates along the cemetery wall. But there are some spaces to park if you chose to drive. Additionally the cemetery offers public transportation within the grounds to help people get to where they wish to go, like I said it is big. Given the time of year we were there the days were quite short and it was extremely cold so we kept our itinerary to a minimum. We wandered around the oldest Jewish section admiring the remaining large tombs, we eventually found our way to the St. Charles Borromeo Cemetery Church and poped in to warm up. It was a really fascinating church designed by Max Hegel and built between 1908 and 1911 in the Art Nouveau style. But is so pristine and light it almost looked new. I of course wandered around way too long taking pictures and trying to open doors I wasn’t allowed to.

After getting sufficiently warmed up and figuring out where the honorary graves are our wander continued. We finally found them parked right in front the huge crowds of tourists. I wanted to go find Falco’s grave for those not in the know he was an Austrian pop start whose song Rock Me Amadeus was pretty popular in the US during the late 1980s but I didn’t have great reception and gave up. We started to wander toward the main gates and noticed a small cafe, so of course we stopped for large cups of coffee and cakes before getting back on the tram and returning to our apartment for the night.

One day I would very much like to return to the cemetery, maybe in the spring or fall when it is slightly warmer and I have more daylight to explore the other places of worship. It may seem like a strange place to visit but like the Viennese say the Central Cemetery of Vienna is “half the size of Zurich, but twice as much fun”. No kidding that is a real joke they say.

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Hundertwasserhaus

Hundertwasserhaus was not the most peculiar thing we did while in Austria over Christmas, as we were actually on the way to a cemetery where no one we ever knew was buried. But we were in the neighborhood and it because it is a little bit wacky it was of course on my list of must see things in Vienna.

Hundertwasserhaus – History
Hundertwasserhaus today is a 53 apartment unit complex along with a few offices and communal space. It was convinced by Friedrich Stowasser an Austrian born artists who was passionate about environmental protection. Born in 1928 in Austria to a Catholic mother and  Jewish father, he chose to be baptized and joined the Hitler Youth to avoid suspicion as a young man. He joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, who famously rejected Hitler in his youth, at an early age and developed a very unique style which rejected modern conventions in art and architecture  such as the straight line. It was in school that he started signing his name Hundertwasser for reasons I have yet to dig up.

After achieving acclaim as an artist he turned to architecture and eventually designed quite a few buildings in both Austria and Germany. He also designed a public restroom is New Zealand where he spent quite a bit of his later life. An incineration plant in Japan. As well as a winery in Napa Valley California. Which now that I know this I am obviously dying to get down to California just to visit this one building.

Given Hundertwasser’s soft spot for nature, it should come as no suprise that he was a advocate in the 70’s for forested roofs and  large communal space with lots of plant life in an attempt to bring harmony between man and nature. His work brought him mto a man named Bruno Kreisky who was federal chancellor in Vienna during the 70s and through this connection he was given the opportunity to plan a housing project.  Josef Krawina was also assigned the project, whose intial plans allegedly shocked Hundertwasser for all their straight lines and exacting angles. After many different concepts and proofs the Hundertwasserhaus was built between the years of 1983 and 1985.

When complete Hundertwasser allegedly refused payment stating it was worth it to prevent something ugly having been built there instead. The final building being a resplendent building complete with a roof grass, huge trees and various plants throughout the court yards  (some of which grow into rooms) and floors that are anything but flat.

 
Hundertwasserhaus – Visiting
Visit Hundertwasserhaus is quite easy as it is just a couple blocks from a tram stop that departs from the Schwedenplatz underground stop in Innerstadt. A quick 10 min ride and a street crossing and you will find yourself staring at a building very outside the ordinary compared to all the baroque style apartment complexes of Vienna. After the general look about and picture taking we wandered into gallery and gift shop area across the courtyard from the main apartment building. As the apartments are private this is the only way to kindly experience the interiors of the building without harassing the locals. Please don’t harass the locals.  There are little shops to get souvenirs, coffee, snacks, paintings and even a public toilet. The whole plaza felt like it was built in 3/4 size and meanders around aimlessly almost giving the feeling of being inside an elaborate tree fort.

As we visited in December the courtyard wasn’t exactly showing off, however the area was just as packed as everywhere else in the city. If you are looking to take stellar pictures of the building I would suggest fall. But if you just want to visit an architectural masterpiece like nothing you have ever seen Hundertwasserhaus shouldn’t be missed.

 

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The Schönbrunn Palace Gardens

The Schönbrunn Palace Gardens

The Schönbrunn Palace Gardens are quite the experience, much like other palaces the grounds are just a series of plant stations but rather house fountains, mazes, elaborate green houses, cafes, a zoo and endless sculptures. As I mentioned in last weeks post it was quite cold the day we visited so touring was a bit frigid but we were there and were determined to have an experience as we always do.

 
The Schönbrunn Palace Gardens – History
When Maximilian II bought the property for his game preserve the land was called Katterburg and belonged to the Klosterneuburg Abbey. It was a flood plane area that housed a mill, farm land and vineyard as it had done since the early middle ages. It is said that Maximilian was mainly interested in the property for a game preserve in order to house and breed native game. Rudolph II inherited the land when Maximilian passed away, though he did little to the land other than ensure it didn’t fall to disrepair.  His successors Ferdinand II and Eleonora Von Gonzaga were avid hunters  and frequently hosted elaborate hunting parties on the grounds. And later became Eleonra’s dowager house when Ferdinand died. In 1642 she had a château de plaisance build on the land and official renamed the area Schönbrunn. In 1683 the house and property was taken by the Turkish army during the siege of Vienna. In 1686 the estate was back in the hands of the Hapsburg family who took to creating the first palace on the land, which was of course expanded by Maria Theresa to the structure seen today. 

The majority of the grounds were designed under the direction of Maria Theresa such as the Neptune Fountain, The Gloriette (which is cafe now), a hedge maze which I got lost in many years ago on a different visit, The Columbary which serves as a doves house. There are also several green houses, an orangery, a zoo (which I have yet to have time to visit), a gasthaus and endless manicured gardens completed with statues.

 
The Schönbrunn Palace Gardens – Visiting
Today the grounds are open to the public for free during daylight hours or for those of us unable to visit in person at the moment can visit online via the official website. Or can be explored via googlemaps thanks to the endless tourists pictures posted. After we completed our interior tour we wandered around the Great Parterre and the Neptune Fountain on the way up to the Gloriette. We were hungry and knew that they were serving breakfast.

Food experiences are almost always my favorite when traveling and this one did not disappoint, the interior of the Gloriette is incredible and the food quite delicious. I spent a good long time trying to decide exactly how much meat, cheese and bread I could consume along with a bottomless pot of coffee while taking in the views. The attempted to read a German language newspaper because I saw some articles about Salzburg. Spoiler alert, I did not glean much as my German is not great.

After breakfast our wander continued down toward the Palm House and Botanical Gardens, the zoo was closed for the holiday but the walk does allow you to see some parts of it. My family is very big on giant green houses, so most of the rest of the morning was spent wandering around the Palm House which is on the location of the former Dutch Botanical gardens was built in 1881 and looks remarkably similar to those at Kew but were not built by the same man. They were however built in a similar style about 40 years apart.

After leaving the Palm House we started our long trek back to the underground station but through the gardens, we wound up spending an inordinate amount of time watching ducks try to land on the frozen ponds in the gardens and skate across them. I honestly think they were doing it for fun, it sure looked like fun. A lot of people were still out and about for their daily jogs and many local families were just there for an afternoon in the sun, even if it was quite cold.

If the grounds are what you are really in for when touring I would highly suggest visiting in spring or fall. While the summer is quite nice when we were there last it is very hot and crowded and obviously in the winter many things are closed. Regardless a visit at The Schönbrunn Palace Gardens is always worth it.

 

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Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna Austria is incredible. That sounds cheesy but it is true. The Hapsburg family called this palace their summer home for 300 years and its grandeur and gardens flaunt the wealth of the family in my opinion even more than that of the Hofburg (the winter palace and seat of the government) simply because this was the place where the family retreated when it got too hot in the summer. Most of us would be lucky to have a shoddy beach shack to call our summer home.

Schönbrunn Palace – History
The building you see today, or at least the restored version of the building you see today was funded by Maria Theresa mother of Maria Antonia better know as Marie Antoinette. The palace was gifted to her on her wedding day to Francis I a French Duke and son of Leopold, Duke of Lorraine. At the time a mansion funded by Eleonora Gonzaga, widow of Ferdinand the II as her dowager house. Prior to the land being gifted to her the property had served as a game park and hunting area for the Hapsburg family. The land having been originally purchased in 1569 by Holy Roman Emperor Maxamillion the II.

The house served as Franz Josephs birthplace (longest reigning Hapsburg monarch) until his death at 86 years of age in 1916. Shortly after his nephew and heir to the monarchy, Franz Ferdinand, was shot and killed in Sarajavo which sparked the beginnings of WWI. When the monarchy officially fell in 1918 the palace became the property of the Republic of Austria and was turned into a museum.

However during WWII the palace was requisitioned, and was also used by British Intelligence during the Allied Occupation of Austria between 1945 and 1955.  In 1955 it was returned to the Austria Republic and the museum reopened shortly after, while also hosting important political meetings like the one between Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. In 1966 the buildings and gardens were registered with UNESCO. The history of this time period can be viewed in much greater detail at the Museum of Military History which we thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Schönbrunn Palace – Visiting
I probably sound like a broken record by now, but buy tickets online in advance to ensure you get to visit at a time most convenient for yourself. To control crowding only so many people are let through the palace at a given time. Pay for the most expensive ticket if you enjoy seeing interiors of very fancy houses. And make sure to pick up the free audio guide, it makes the tour very enjoyable. Additionally if you are like us and allergic to crowds get there early.

 

We left the house before the sun came up and found ourselves at the gates at just about dawn. The gates were opened but the museum hadn’t yet, nor could we buy our tickets yet (we weren’t as smart as you will be when you visit). We tootled around the front gardens for a bit waiting for the ticket office to open, and the rushed the gates to buy the first available time slot, which luckily for us was immediately. By this time the tours were starting to show up, and fewer photo opportunities were available as the entire front grounds were filled with crowds.

 

 

Even with the crowd control measures the interior tour was quite packed. We ended up skipping a room just so we could get around two large tour groups that were clogging up the flow. The tour ends at the gift shop of course where you can also buy snacks, drinks and there are restroom available. After we toured the interior we moved on to the grounds as it had finally warmed up enough to wander, in case you were wondering while it doesn’t snow much in Vienna in the winter it is in fact VERY cold. I will cover the grounds in another post, but in summary if you had time I would highly suggest a visit to the Schönbrunn Palace as it is a delightful peak into history.

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Sisi Museum

Our second full day in Vienna was Christmas Eve, we knew not much would be open in the evening but some of the tourists spots were still open. Though this did mean that those that were open were especially jam packed. And the Sisi Museum at the Hofburg was no exception. The Hofburg Palace is the documented seat of the Austrian government since 1279. The palace itself has been expanded over the centuries and rather than serving as the winter palace for the royal family and the seat of the empires government, today it is the official residence and workplace of the president. As well as housing a multitude of museums within its many buildings. Sisi Museum On Christmas Day we decided to stick somewhat close to home, we knew we wanted to get any last minuet supplies to get us through the holiday closures, as well as pick up a few more gifts for our stockings. After visiting the Naschmarkt we looped around and visited the Christmas Market in at the Hofburg. Then on a whim we decided to pop in the Sisi Museam because the line didn’t look too long. Though in retrospect given the route we took to find the ticketing counter, we may have actually cut the line. The museum itself doesn’t take up very many rooms and I cannot reiterate enough that it is a very popular stop. If you do not like crowds or tight spaces I would honestly skip the museum all together. The first portion is a bit of history on Sisi herself, otherwise known as Empress Elizabeth the wife of Franz Joseph. She herself is a bit of a hot topic in the area. Franz Jospeh was a beloved monarch, and Sisi was met with mixed reception during his reign. She hated court life, and was often out of the country. Allegedly had a long standing affair with a Hungarian statesman. But on the other hand it is said she was very kind, passionate, beautiful and people did seem to love her. As you enter the museum you will see personal effects, dressed and various items related to the woman herself. All set up in an oddly modern display in a series of small, dark, narrow hallway rooms. After this portion of the museum comes the staterooms which is much more open. Highlighting the apartments that were occupied by the couple and their children when they spent winters at the palace. It felt incredibly crowded and we sort of figured it was due to it being the holidays, but it seemed to only get worse as the week wore on, there were times where the line was down the block to get in. I am glad we went but I think there are probably better places to go to get more information. If you are particularly interested in seeing royal apartments the crowds at Schonnebrun are much easier to handle and if you want to learn more about Sisi herself I have heard the museum in Possenhoffen (her birthplace) is really fantastic. Otherwise if you are up to the possible crowds the Sisi Museam is a lovely look inside the life at the Hofburg and Empress Elizabeth.
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The Belvedere Palace

The Belvedere Palace in Vienna Austria is one of many art museums in the city, but perhaps one of the most beautiful. It packs a punch with a large collection of works by the famous Viennese artist Gustav Klimt as well as Egon Schiele who was a protégé of Klimt’s. It like most of the sights in Vienna are packed with tourists but if you can handle the crowd it will certainly take your breath away.

History of the Belvedere Palace
The Belvedere Palace was commission by Prince Eugene of France of all places. He grew up in Paris in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King the very same King who had the Palace of  Versailles built. But Eugene due to the escapades of his mother was forced to leave the French court, and instead lent his allegiance and military prowess to the Holy Roman Empire. So great was his fame Napoleonian called him one of the greatest military leaders in history.

Throughout his career serving the Hapsburgs he contributed to and lead countless campaigns for the country which lasted six decades and three monarchs. Throughout those years of service he gained a great deal of wealth and knowing he wanted to live out his years in the country rather in the winter palace (The Hofburg) in Vienna where he had been living while not on campaign he bought the plot of land the palace sits on today. And then he bought a few other plots of land, and had a little squabble with another fellow who was also trying to buy up land to build a palace and a garden in this out of town location. Which by the way, is no longer out of town, but nearly the center of Vienna for how much the city has grown since 1697.

After the tiff was over, land was bought and commissioned and the Lower Palace was started in 1712 and the Upper Palace was completed in 1723. The gardens having been designed and completed somewhere in that time line as well. But even completed the roof was structurally at risk in some locations, so the final completion date was actually closer to 1733. Eugene passed away in 1736, leaving no will. Eventually the palace went to his niece, who eventually had to sell the palace due to financial troubles at which time Maria Theresa (Marie Antoinette’s mother) bought the palace.  At which time the upper palace was transformed into a picture gallery and the lower gallery served as a home for French royalty fleeing the revolution, most notably Marie Thérèse Charlotte (Marie Antoinette’s only surviving child).

During the lead up to WWI the palace was again transformed when the upper palace was given to Franz Ferdinand as a home until he took the throne officially. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand, WWI and the political upheaval of Austria’s  First and Second Republic saw many changes in the palaces again. After taking significant damage during WWII, the palace was restored and reopened in 1953.

Visiting the Belvedere Palace
Perhaps because of it long and important history, perhaps because it is so beautiful, or because it houses so many incredible works of art, or perhaps it doesn’t matter why but the Belvedere is a wildly popular location to visit, with annoyingly reasonable opening hours making it difficult to sneak in during off hours to visit.

Because it is so popular when you buy your entrance ticket you will be given a time stamp on when you can enter the upper palace, the lower palace and orangery currently have no such restrictions. You can also buy your ticket ahead of time online, which will ensure you can get in on the day and time that is preferred to your schedule, but because of its popularity you will likely be surrounded by crowds the entire visit. If you love art and history and architecture I wouldn’t let this put you off. I would just suggest being prepared to make a day of it, take it in strides and bring lots of snacks. The café in the upper palace is really quite lovely but it has a very small number of tables and a fairly limited menu.

The Upper Palace is the grander of the three buildings, and houses the more famous works of Austrian artists or works highlighting Austria’s history. The Lower Palace has rotating exhibitions, and the Orangery as it has had since it opened houses a large collection of medieval religious works, which I loved. Aside from the buildings that gardens are quite impressive with a large reflecting pool at the front and twin gardens in the back separating the upper and lower palaces, complete with fountains and sculptures and even a waterfall. If visiting is not in your future, you can always explore the outstanding grounds via google maps, sadly they do not have a walking street view option but plenty of users have posted their photos so you can get a good feel for the grounds by exploring those. They do however offer the walking view of the main room in the Upper Palace , the main room in the Lower Palace as well as some of the more impressive rooms of the Lower Palace.

 

In a nut shell, even though it is annoyingly popular it is popular for good reason and if you have a chance and if art is something you feel you cannot live without seeing while in Vienna I would highly suggest a trip “out of town” which means just next to the main central rail station to visit The Belvedere Palace.

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Cafe Central Christmas

Cafe Central

Cafe Central in Vienna Austria is historic, gorgeous, delicious but also comes at a cost, a very very long line to get in. I am incredibly happy that we visited but I am inclined to say the long lines aren’t worth it and Vienna is full of incredible coffee houses, all of which have much shorter lines.

 
Café Central – History
Café Central opened in 1876 in the building of a former bank in central Vienna which was design by Heinrich Von Ferstel. At the time coffee houses in Vienna was the thing, attracting intellectuals, artists, authors and politicians to the cheap eats and common meeting place provided by the atmosphere. Café Central earned the nickname “chess school” due to the high volume of chess players that used the first floor to play long drawn out games. It was also the gathering spot for members of the Vienna Circle a group of philosophy of science students and teachers from the local university. Due to the nature of the environment and the set of people who gathered there regularly many of the patrons were later well know in history such as Adolf Loos, Leon Trosky, Sigmund Freud, a huge swath of Austria writers, poets and journalists and of course given the location and time period Adolf Hitler spent a good deal of time here.

Café Central – Visiting
We happen to be in Vienna during Christmas which is one of the busier times of year, so I wasn’t surprised by the near constant line that wrapped around the block. But since having been back I have noticed that even during the off season the café line is quite long. After observing the line for several days and becoming more and more curious about how good this place must be we chose to wake up and be there when it opened. There was a line of three people, six when we joined. And happily only had to wait outside in the cold for about 10min before the doors actually opened. The café is bright barn and incredibly beautiful. Exactly everything you would imagine from a historic café and meeting place.

It seems most people come in for pastries and coffee, we chose pastries and coffee and breakfast. It was delicious, though our waiter may have thought we were insane for ordering so much food. Austrian breakfast is traditionally quite light, consisting mostly of coffee and a small pastry. And the small marble tables were not exactly fit for three people, three cups of coffee, water, pastries as well as full plates of eggs and toast. It was a bit of a circus. But we thoroughly enjoyed our selves all the same. It was starting to get very crowded by the time we were finishing up so we chose to hurry out so that others could have our table, we couldn’t have been in there for any longer than an hour and the line was already around the block again. So pro travel tip, either dedicate yourself to standing in that line, or get up at dawn and plan on being the first ones in Café Central.

 

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Austria’s House of History

Austria’s House of History or Haus der Geschichte Osterreich officially is a museum dedicated to the reconstruction of Austria post WWII. We had every intention of visiting all the museums in Vienna, but didn’t quite realize the volume that is available just in the Hofburg itself. And to be honest picking one, getting to it and finding tickets for it can be a bit confusing. Once we recovered from walking all over Budapest we knew we wanted to discover more history local to Vienna so we picked the Haus der Geschichte Osterreich in the Neu Berg wing of the Hofburg complex. The main halls were the traditional baroque hallways filled with statues, an oddly out of place series of Greek artifacts and some information on the balcony of the Hofburg which is where Adolf Hitler stood to give his 1938 Anschluss speech.

 

Austria’s House of History – Getting There
Austria’s House of History is, as I mentioned above, in the Neu Burg wing of the Hofburg palace. It is hard to miss as it is the one place that almost looks like the actual “front door” of the palace. Ticket can be bought at the kiosk out front, which quite frankly looked like a temporary shelter for a construction site causing even more confusion for us. Once inside there are several halls filled with a variety of revolving topics. As well as roped off corridors that you will be tempted to jump over as they tantalizingly display elaborate medieval armor which is not for this museum but for the  Court Hunting and Armory Museum (Hofjagd-und Rustkammer) which we never did find the entrance for.

 
Austria’s House of History – What to Expect
Hopefully you are much better at navigating through large imperial buildings that we are, but once in you will find several rooms dedicated to the history of the reconstruction of Austria post WWII. Our history books like the pretend that once the Germans were defeated everything went back to normal. But for nearly all of these  countries which had up until the world wars had operated under a moarchy had a lot of conflicts to still go through before they resembled the countries we know today. Not least of which due to the presence of the USSR sharing the border with some of these more eastern countries like Austria. Through a series of rooms and creative interactive displays the museum presents the countries contemporary history starting with the founding of the republic in 1918 through modern day social changes and political alliances. If you are interested in indepth history this is the museam of you. We spent the entire day here and I still feel like I didn’t get a chance to absorb it all.

 

 

I don’t think I would be able to chose between this and the Museum of Military History. Between the two you are given nearly the full swath of Austrian history, missing only periods prior to the Turkish wars when the majority of Europe was in the throws of the dark ages and recorded history is difficult to come by. I am so glad I got to experience this place and look forward to exploring more of the areas of the Hofburg one day when I visit Vienna again. And maybe even another visit to Austria’s House of History.

 

 

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