Visitors

14 May

What a great thing it is to have visitors–nice visitors–in this case, a friend I hadn’t seen in 30 years and her husband. (Sadly they were just in Vienna for the day.) They bravely put themselves in my hands at 10:30 this morning in front of Stephansdom, after saying they wanted to see whatever I recommended.

We started with the climb up the 343 steps to the top of the South Tower of Stephansdom so that we could get the overview of the city. We had great weather for it, which, along with the fact that today is a holiday in Austria (Ascension), perhaps explains why there were so many people up there, some of them rather, shall we say, assertive. Nonetheless, we did get to see out of all the windows, in all directions, and I got to play the game of “Can I orient myself and tell them what is what”.

Then down to the ground again and around to the Graben. We didn’t stop to admire the Plague Pillar but did take note of it and made use of the Art Deco (Jugendstil) toilets under the Graben near St. Peter’s Church. Then up Kohlmarkt to Michaelerplatz where it started to sprinkle, which we considered a good excuse to duck into Café Griensteidl for coffee (and cake, in some cases).

When we came out again it had stopped raining. We marveled at the Roman ruins laid bare on Michaelerplatz and then took Herrengasse north away from the center, turning off to go down to the Freyung. After a quick detour to Am Hof (because of “The Third Man”) we headed out Schottengasse to Schottentor. I pointed out Palais Ephrussi because of our mutual Japanese connection, and because I’m pretty sure “The Hare with Amber Eyes” is a book this friend would appreciate.

There we turned into the Ringstraße (celebrating 150 years this year). We didn’t go in anywhere but admired in passing the University (650 years old this year), the Rathaus all decked out for the Life Ball, Café Landtmann, and the Burgtheater (where reference to Klaus Maria Brandauer was made). Then we came to the Parliament. We walked up the curved approach commenting on the Greek-style statuary and the mosaic on the wall at the top, and I realized I had never walked up there before. I usually simply go by in the tram and look out the window. It may not be all that high–certainly it’s not 343 steps up–but we still had a nice view of the Volksgarten and parts of the former Imperial Palace.

We continued along the Ring to the two museums, and I told the joke of how to tell which one is the Natural History Museum and which the Museum of Art History. Out of the depths of my memory I dredged up what I know about Maria Theresia so that my guests had a sense of who it was sitting between the two buildings looking regal. It’s amazing how easy it is to remember the more prurient details–Marie Antoinette was the youngest of Maria Theresia’s 16 children–and how vague I was on the important reforms, including educational reforms, she pushed through.

Deciding to take a slightly closer look at the former Imperial Palace (Hofburg), we crossed the Ring, went through the triumphal arch, studied the victorious, of course, military gentlemen on horseback (A. Ferkorn’s statues of Prince Eugen and Archduke Charles), pondered the fact that Hitler had stood on the balcony and made his first speech after Austria was annexed in 1938, and then walked through with a quick glance at the chapel where the Vienna Boys’ Choir sings.

Coming out at Michaelerplatz once again we turned right and headed south this time, with only a nod to the Spanish Riding School where you can see the Lipizzaners in their stalls, the National Library, the Augustiner Church, and the Albertina. By this time, those of us who hadn’t had cake earlier were feeling a bit peckish so we turned into the Burggarten and secured a table at the Palmenhaus, one of my favorite restaurants in Vienna even when, as was the case today, it’s a little too chilly to sit outside. (I simply can’t resist a restaurant that has a six-page menu of which one page covers the seasonal dishes they are offering and five pages cover the wines, all good and mostly Austrian.) After a lunch of white asparagus for two of us and Schnitzel for one of us, we continued on to the Ring where I left my visitors to go on to the Secession while I went home to walk the dog.

It strikes me that this was a pretty good tour of the city for five hours or so, and that it was rather special to do it this year with the two anniversaries (Ringstraße and University) and two big events (the Life Ball and the Eurovision Song Contest) happening in the next few days. A great way to spend a holiday.

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