Thursday, September 11, 2014

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 159

 Scenes from Vienna with postcard photos by Berhard Helminger

 St. Stephans’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria
postcard photo by Berhard Helminger

This post will be a little more like a travel log than a regular postcard entry.  We only had a couple of days in Vienna, Austria with several places recommended by the Rick Steves Guidebook that we wanted to see including the magnificent St. Stephan’s Cathedral featured on today’s postcards above.  Steves is a local Seattle travel expert and public TV travel host who often has tips on things to see that are sometimes missed by group tours.  

I had had a very positive experience with a city tour in Paris two years ago; hence I persuaded Bob that we should take advantage of a city sightseeing bus tour suggested by the hotel.  It was the only organized bus tour we took the entire trip. 

There are good things and bad things about a tour like this one.  On the positive side it is possible to see much more of the city on a tour with a knowledgeable guide than it would be otherwise.  But compared to the city tour I took in Paris, this one was not anywhere near as good.  On the negative side everything went by so fast.  We signed up for an English only tour but through some mix up it ended up having both English and German speaking people.  The guide therefore had to give the information in both languages.  The German version that was given first seemed twice as long and I sometimes felt she was leaving things out in the English translation meanwhile the place we were supposed to notice had long passed as the bus continued forward.

Schönbrunn Palace

On the rare occasions when the bus stopped and we got out everyone had to stay together as a group and not straggle behind or go off on our own so if we saw something we wanted a closer peek at—too bad.   We were given only ½ hour to either eat lunch or walk through the gardens at Schönbrunn Palace before entering and going through the interior with headsets.  The palace is very popular and the restroom line was so long it would have taken the allotted ½ hour just to use it provided, of course, that one had the required 50 cents euro.  Is it possible to tell that I think it is just wrong to charge to use a public toilet? 

A section of the Schönbrunn Palace gardens--the gardens here reminded me of ones at Versailles although on a slightly smaller scale.  If we had had more time we would have walked to the end of the gardens up to the pavilion seen at the upper right above the fountain in the picture and from there had a more complete view of the palace and grounds.  Belvedere is a beautiful palace also but smaller, used as a entertainment or party venue, with smaller gardens.

Photography was not allowed inside the palace only outside in the gardens.  The interior is very opulent and grand.  The tour guide had booklets and maps we could buy in lieu of taking our own photos.   As a contrast, the Paris tour guide gave us at least one hour for lunch and several other times during the day we had an hour or more of free time to look around on our own then meet up with the group at a specified place.  Everything was included and we did not have to purchase maps or booklets at an extra cost. The use of a flash was limited in some cases but I do not remember any place where it was forbidden to take pictures.

The biggest surprise on the Vienna tour was that at the end of it the guide announced that we would not be driven back to the hotel but would be let off at either Belvedere Palace or the Opera House both a fair distance from the hotel.  We opted to stop at Belvedere, go through the gardens there then eat a snack before heading back to the hotel via stops along the way to see a couple of other things.  When Bob mentioned that we wanted to walk back she urged us to take the metro transportation but we had more things we wanted to see.  We were outside the boundaries of the small map the hotel provided but the map in the booklet we purchased on the tour extended a little farther.  We really could have used a bigger map.  She only had a city map in Russian!  We ended up relying on the map in the booklet.  I am not sorry we took the tour but we were somewhat disappointed in it.  The booklet we bought, however, is very nice and we would have been totally lost without the map.

The bus had breezed by St. Stephan’s Cathedral, one of the most famous landmarks of the city and we wanted a better look, inside and out.  We could see the tower spire from Belvedere so we set off, got lost or disoriented a couple of times but eventually got to St. Stephan’s.  It was well worth it.  From the Cathedral it was familiar territory and we got back to the hotel without further mishap.  The hotel staff was incredulous that we had walked all that way but even though we are retirees we are hikers after all and throughout the trip we averaged about 5 miles a day of walking.  Easy peasy. 

St. Stephan’s Cathedral on the left as seen from the gardens at Belvedere Palace

Belvedere Palace

The groundbreaking for St. Stephan’s, a Romanesque, Gothic style Catholic Cathedral, was in 1137 with construction lasting from the dedication in 1147 to completion in 1160.  As with many other old churches there was major reconstruction and expansion lasting in this case until 1511 and repair/restoration projects continuing up to the present day.  When we were there the outside of the building was being cleaned by sandblasting and sections were bright stone while other parts that had not been treated were dark, sooty black. 

The clean section of stone next to a black sooty section

At one time it was believed that the church had been built in an open field before the city grew up around it but modern excavations for a new heating system revealed that this spot had been a Roman cemetery from the 4th century.  The discovery suggests that there was an earlier religious building on the site.   It is now located in a pedestrian only area of the city but instead of being in a garden or large square as one might expect it just has a slightly wider sidewalk around it with the tall tower sprouting up out of the street like a tree. 

The street next to the cathedral with the tall tower sprouting out of the sidewalk

Looking up at the rest of the spire

The roof contains 230,000 richly colored tiles that form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle, a symbol of the Habsburg dynasty on one side, the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and designs on another.  It is beautiful.  I am not sure photos can quite capture all the grandeur.  A fire at the end of World War II in 1945 caused severe damage to the cathedral and to neighboring buildings necessitating the use of steel bracing for the roof instead of trying to replace the original wooden framework.

Part of the tiled roof is shown here.  A screen covers the scaffolding where a section of the outside stone is being cleaned.

St. Stephan’s has 23 bells the largest one weighing 22 tons.  It was originally cast in 1711 from cannons captured from Muslim invaders.  The bell had to be recast, using some of the original material, in 1951 because the fire in 1945 caused it to crash to the floor when the wooden cradle burned.  The new bell rings only on a few special occasions such as New Year’s.  Three older bells in the tower are no longer used.  Eleven electrically operated bells were cast in 1960 and hang in the south tower.  There are other replacements for old bells lost in the fire that are used during Masses.  There are two bells in the tallest tower that mark the passing of the hours. 

On the outside walls there are measures available to the public.  Beginning in the Middle Ages a major city had its own set of measures.  These publicly available standards allowed merchants from other places to comply with the local regulations. 
Mozart was music director here shortly before his death.  He was married here and two of his children were baptized here. 
One of the numerous statues is called “Christ with a Toothache” because of the agonized expression on the face. 

“Christ with a Toothache”

Here are a few pictures of the interior of St. Stephan’s--

For more information about the cathedral, please see:,_Vienna

 Below are two more postcards showing views of the inside of the Cathedral.  The printing and/or publishing information is listed as 

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