Saturday, April 29, 2017

Vienna and Budapest

One of the things one can do when staying in Europe for any length of time is to take advantage of already being there (flight over) and visit other places, We have done this in our last few trips and seen a lot of places which we hadn't seen before.

This year we took a trip with Jacques and Claire to Vienna.

We flew to Vienna on Transavia Airlines from Orly. Transavia is a subsidiary of Air France and a cheap way to fly. But "cheap" implies no checked bags and limited space for carry-on luggage. After sweating out the measurements of our carry-on bags we all managed to get on the plane. In fact Judy's bag was the only one that passed the measurement test. The others had to be left on the runway to be stored in the baggage compartment.

The flight and taxi to the city were uneventful. Our hotel, Hotel Strudlhof and Palace, was waiting for us when we arrived. The hotel is relatively new. Next to it is the Palais Strudlhof. There is a beautiful stairway leading up to the Palais which is lit up at night.


After checking in, we headed to the nearest cafe for some refreshments (nothing to eat on the plane). Of course, the first thing to order and the obligatory first photo is of some good, local Austrian beer. It was a beautiful day so we took advantage of the weather and relaxed for a while before taking a walk to the city center.


For starters, Vienna is a beautiful city. There are a multitude of impressive governmental buildings and museums, all either in, or surrounded by, parks and green areas. Here is the Parliament Building along the Ring Strasse.


All of these municipal and educational buildings can be reached by the Tram system along the Ring Strasse. The trams are easy to use and pass by just about all of the important landmarks. There is also an Underground system to get further out of town. The Schonbrunn Castle can reached by the "U".


Another means of transportation is the horse drawn carriages which weave in and out of the parks to the tourist sites. This one was near the stables for the famous Lipizzaner horses.

It is a city with a great cultural history. There are statues of some the cultural icons, especially in the world of music. We attended a concert of some of Mozart's famous works as well as those of another son of Vienna, Richard Strauss. The small orchestra was accompanied by a soprano and a pair of dancers. Very entertaining.
Here is a statue of Mozart in the park not far from  the Opera House.

There are parks everywhere but even in the "old city" there are squares and pedestrian only areas. The Stephansplatz near St Stephen's Cathedral was especially crowded when we were there due to the fine weather that finally arrived. 
St. Stephen's Cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, the founder of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who converted the inhabitants to Christianity back around the 12th century. A lot of the church was destroyed in WWII but has been rebuilt. The tiled roof was rebuilt with financing from donations from the citizens of Vienna.

It is really quite impressive to walk into the dark church from the sunlight. 

 MUSEUMS
There are many museums in Vienna but the three museums we visited were the Albertina, The Kunts Historical Museum and Belvedere Castle.

The Albertina, just behind the Opera House, was having an exhibit of the work of Ergon Scheille. I had heard of him but was not really too familiar with his work.

Next to Klimt he is one of the most famous of the Austrian painters, at least in modern times. He was always controversial and was even jailed for a short time for displaying some paintings with questionable subject matter.

Here is one of his very simple sketches that I wanted to use an example of some of the architectural drawings I like to do. Very simple. Nothing too controversial about this.


Here is a self portrait of the artist. One interesting factoid was that he always posed with his fingers spread, as in the painting. It is said that he posed like that because he remembered seeing a painting of Christ who had his fingers spread in that manner. I guess he had a pretty good opinion of himself.


Belvedere Castle is located on the tram line and very easy to find. There is an Upper Belvedere and Lower  Belvedere, separated by a beautiful garden. Here is a shot of the garden and Lower Belvedere with the tower of St. Stephen's Cathederal in the background.


Like most of these incredible public buildings, the staircase that led up to the galleries was spectacular. 

The Upper Belvedere is the home of the largest collection of Gustave Klimt's paintings in the world. Here is a shot of his famous painting, The Kiss. It was in a dark room which seemed to be as crowded as the Mona Lisa room in the Louvre. 



The cost of the upkeep of these buildings must be tremendous. But, they all are in great condition. Vienna is experiencing more tourists each year, so that can help defray the cost of the maintenance. Here is a worker repairing the gold leaf around the doorway in the Belvedere (I think). A very time consuming and labor intensive job.
The last museum we visited, and probably our favorite was the Kunts Historische Museum. This museum is grouped with a few other museums in the MuseumPlatz.

It, too, had a spectacular staircase leading upstairs where two paintings by Klimpt were discretely displayed near the ceiling above the staircase. They weren't exactly obvious.


There were many paintings by well known artists, especially Italian artists. We found a number of Caravaggio paintings in one room. This one is of David and Goliath and Goliath's head is a self portrait of Caravaggio. 


Along with Vermeer's The Art of Painting in another room.

I really liked the relaxed seating so that one could appreciate the artwork. Better than the hard benches found in most museums. 

As in many museums, local artists are allowed to set up their easel and copy some of the masters. Here is an artist discussing her work with some visitors.

Judy's favorites were the Bruegels. Here is a teacher with her young students appreciating and trying to figure out one Judy's favorites. Judy was amazed at the size of the painting. She has had a small print for ages and just never knew how big the original was. These kids were having fun trying to guess who belonged to that extra foot...

Finally, there was an extraordinary cafe on the gallery level. Very relaxing with international newspapers on those sticks for the customers to enjoy.
Of course, we had to sample as much food as possible. We sampled a variety of foods but here are some of our favorites.
Rick Steves recommends the small sandwiches at Trzesniewski's. near the Stephanplatz.  You pick your sandwich from a display and order something to drink, then try to find someplace to eat it. There are a few small barstool tables inside, but most people just stood outside.
We ate our lunch at an outdoor cafe across from this place but I had to go in to sample a few of the tiny bites. Egg salad, egg with ham and egg with herring. I'll stick to the weiner schnitzel. 

But the favorite was the Apfel Strudel. We had to try that everywhere we went. 
At an outdoor cafe. 
 At the Schonbrun Castle

 And at the famous Central Caffe.

we all agreed that the strudel at the Schonbrun was the best. 
No photos allowed inside the castle but here is Judy on the palace grounds. 

 BUDAPEST
Welcome to Budapest sign at Hero's Square. 

We took advantage of our stay in Vienna to set out on a one day trip to Budapest. Budapest is made up of two areas divided by the Danube. They are Buda, on a hill above the river, and Pest, lower land on the other side of the river. Together they form Budapest.

Our first stop was at Hero's Square that memorializes St. Stephen and the Magyars who settled the area after the death of Attila the Hun. The tomb of the unknown solder is on this square also. We had lunch in a nearby tourist trap but really enjoyed the local cuisine, especially, the Hungarian Goulash.

We visited the heights of Buda to view Fishermans' Bastion where fish were sold in the early days.

Nearby was the church of St. Mathias.

The views across the Danube from this vantage point were fantastic. 
 St Stephen's Cathedral of Budapest

 The Parliament Building
A couple of tourists.

The same St. Stephen celebrated in Vienna is celebrated in Budapest. 
There is an enormous cathedral on the Pest side of the Danube not far from the Budapest Opera House.

The unique aspect of this church is that much of the interior is made of marble instead of stone like many other churches of its age. It too was very impressive.



This trip to Vienna and the side trip to Budapest will be remembered as one of the highlights of any of our visits to Europe. They both have much to see and enjoy and are worthy of extended stays in each place. Maybe we'll get back there again some day. If the world cooperates...

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