Vienna, the Austrian capital and former center of the Habsburg empire, is only about an hour away, but due to a Gay Pride parade that closed many streets (including the one in front of our hotel!) we took a "Tauck surprise" detour. This time it was to Seegrotte in the Austrian woods. This was originally a gypsum mine, but mining ended in the 1920s. Near the end of WWII, the Germans actually used people from the concentration camps to build parts for the new Heinkel jets down there!!! It also (purportedly) contains the largest underwater lake in Europe; the lakes we saw in the Salt Mine looked bigger. Here's the funny part: we knew we were going to the Salt Mine and were warned that it was a constant 52 degrees, so we went with our heavy coats and ski caps and gloves. But since we had no warning for this mine we were totally unprepared for the 40 degree temperature inside! (Did I mention it was 90+ outside??) We walked about 200 feet, saw a few tableaus and then went on a "It's a small world" Disney boat for a 3 minute ride! Then we ran out as fast as we could. We've really given this more space than it deserves; a definite "must miss".
Then we drove to our hotel, the fantastic Hotel Bristol. Vienna was recently recognized as the safest big city in the world! It has a big city feel, lots of hustle and bustle and many street cars, but still features that "old world" architecture: the ornate buildings, the many large greenish-oxidized statues and monuments, even a 100+ year old Ferris wheel. They speak German in Austria, but apparently you can tell where someone is from by how it sounds. Sort of like Manhattan vs Chicago vs New Orleans. As an aside, the sensibility and emotional tension felt much different from when Wendy was here 38 years ago (more on that later).
Sunday's touring started at the State Art museum. We saw hundreds of old masters (many of which we recognized) and learned a lot from our guide.
Up next was Schoennbrun was the summer home of the Hapsbourgs (gee...it's a whole 5 miles from the city center!). It's one of those "we built it because we could" huge, ornate palaces (much like Versailles with beautiful gardens and all).
Before the actual tour, we were treated to a strudel-making demo! The baker tossed the dough like a pizza and it was so thin you could read a newspaper through it! Here he is with his assistant.
Then lunch: The choice was fish or Wienerschnitzel. Perfect for us. Both were delicious, but the schnitzel was the size of Slovakia! Unfortunately they ran out of the big buns!
Then we toured the grounds where we learned, among other things, that Maria Theresa had 16 children...11 girls and 5 boys. The girls (most of whom were named Marie) were married off to the kings and royalties of Europe. One of them was Marie Antoinette!
We had a light dinner at a local cafe. Finally there was a dark beer on the menu! It had a real chocolate-malty taste.
Then we went to the ballet at the Staats Oper (State Opera House). The program was "Ballet Vienna - Vienna State Opera - Juwelen der Neuen Welt II, George Balanchine, John Neumeier, Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe". It was 20th century dance (though not "modern") to the music of Bach, Stravinsky,Haydn, and Schubert. It was amazing, and seeing the variety of people and their outfits in the audience was also quite an experience.
Monday: a walking tour of the central area, Ringstrasse 1. The Hapsbourg palace, St. Augustin church, the building with the famed Lippazaner Stallions (the Spanish Horses); they don't perform on Monday, so we missed out.
Our guide explained how Austria was both victim and perpetrator during the war, and took great pains to explain that the Austrian people are not German even though they speak the same language. She said that the children are more exposed to the facts of the war and the holocaust now than when she was growing up. Even so the relationship between the Austrians and the Jews, beore, during, and since the war is complex.
Next we walked to the Juden Platz, an old Jewish part of town...NOT a ghetto in the sense of an imposed living area where people HAD to return to each night...this was more like the Jewish neighborhood in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now the square contains a holocaust memorial which was built through the efforts of Simon Weisanthal. It is an inside-out library, with the "books" carved on the outside...though there is a carved "door", there really is no inside. It is in memory of the 65,000 Austrian Jews killed in the war.
Then a short walk to view the outside (undergoing serious renovation) and a quick look-see of the inside of St. Stephen's church, the focal point of the city. This is a different St. Stephen than we saw in Budapest. This one is the first Christian martyr.
Then we had a little time to spare before our private tour of the Stadttempel synagogue, so we stopped for.....ta da: some apple strudel!!!!!! Sooooo good!! Just sat outside and watched all the tourists (btw: it was in the 90s again today).
Then we had a guide show us around the Stadttempel (City-Temple or City-Synagogue, also called the Seitenstettengasse Temple), which today is the main synagogue of Vienna. The synagogue was constructed in 1825 and 1826 and was fitted into a block of houses and hidden from plain view of the street, because of an edict issued by Emperor Joseph II that only Roman Catholic places of worship were allowed to be built with facades fronting directly on to public streets. Ironically, this edict saved the synagogue from total destruction during the Kristallnacht in November 1938, since the synagogue could not be destroyed without setting on fire the buildings to which it was attached. The Stadttempel was the only synagogue in the city to survive the war, as the Germans destroyed all of the other 93 synagogues in Vienna.
The tour was over at this point, so we went to the famous Cafe Demel for a light repast.....small open-faced sandwiches of egg salad, roast beef, and smoked salmon (und beer). Wendy had a mini pastry.
Then we took a one-stop ride on the subway (just to add it to our list), and a short walk to the Hotel Sacher for some Sacher tort!!! Yes....even we overdid it!