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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Vienna for beginners (Part Three)

Over the last two weeks, we visited the heart of Vienna by walking down Kartnerstrasse and Graben. There's one more street and two squares left in this tour of Vienna--Kohlmarkt, Michaelerplatz, and Heldenplatz.

Last time, we left off at the Julius Meinl cafe. As you turn left and continue down the Kohlmarkt, you'll be in one of the ritziest shopping streets in the city. A fun place to visit is about three quarters of the way down on the right: Demel Hofzuckerbacker (chocolatier and bakery). The shop has been around since 1786, which means that it predates the United States' Constitution. You can go in and look at all the amazingly crafted chocolates or you can sit and eat a slice of cake in the cafe. This cafe is one of the few that is smoke-free in Vienna, by the way, and its Sacher Torte is considered the chief rival to Hotel Sacher's.

If you don't have time to go in, at least take the opportunity to look at the window displays. They change with the seasons, and they are always pretty incredible, with the almost life-sized marzipan figures. It's ice cream season right now, so the man below is an ice cream cone with scoops for arms. (Important tourist note: the word for ice cream in German is "Eis," pronounced exactly like "ice." If you ask for an ice coffee, the waiter will think you mean an Eiskaffee, and he will bring you a coffee-ice cream sundae.)
The current window display at Demel.

Then the end of the street brings you to Michaelerplatz. What you see below is a photo of where you would be standing if you followed the route above. The big building is where the emperors lived! It's called the Hofburg, and inside is the Sissi Museum, the Imperial Apartments, and the Spanish Riding School.

Right in front of the Hofburg, however, are Roman ruins in the process of being excavated. The story is that they were digging a new U-bahn station there when they stumbled upon Roman ruins and had to stop the work.

If you continue through the Hofburg, you'll get to see where the emperors lived, and if you take the time to tour the Imperial Apartments and the Sissi Museum you will learn a ton about Empress Sissi (Elisabeth of Bavaria), who is simultaneously this revered figure in Austrian history and a total mystery. Below you can see a famous portrait of Sissi. She was considered the most beautiful woman in Europe, if you can believe that, and was known for her amazingly long hair and tiny waist. She was desperately unhappy as the subject of public attention, however, and spent her whole life traveling away from the court. She also studied five languages and had her tutors read Greek epics to her while servants brushed her hair. She also rode horses and was a daredevil. She had her own private bathroom decorated with all the plants and animals of the jungle, and she washed her hair with her own special "shampoo" of cognac and egg yolks. She was also known for having had a sweet tooth and ordered lots of cookies from Demel's. Clearly I was fascinated.
Empress Sissi
(this image is from Wikimedia Commons)

If you keep going through the Hofburg, you'll arrive in Heldenplatz! To your left is the National Library. It's slightly impressive looking. Inside are not only all the books, but four museums: the State Hall, the Papyrus Museum, the Globe Museum, and the Esperanto Museum. For those of you who don't know, Esperanto is a totally made up language, and the museum houses the "Department of Planned Languages," where more than 500 "planned" (or "invented," "made-up") languages are documented. According to the website, it is the world's largest library on interlinguistics. So get excited about THAT.
The National Library
To your right in Heldenplatz (and pictured below) is my absolute favorite view in Vienna. Above the trees, behind the park, are the spires of the Rathaus. At night, they are lit up.


I used to bike ride to work just so I could see this view in the morning (I gave up because bike riding on cobblestones is absolutely not comfortable). It's just a beautiful building, and people are always walking by calmly, and the atmosphere is perfect. It is such a statement about Vienna to emerge from the home of the Emperors and to see the majestic buildings to your left and your right, surrounded by parks and facing a giant ornamental gate. If you go to Vienna, you absolutely must do this walk... it sums up so much about the history and the style of life in the city.
Closer to the Rathaus... and throughout the summer, the city holds giant free concerts in the square in front of it.

If you want to learn more about some of the more off-the-beaten track sights in Vienna, please check out my blog, transatlantic sketches! I'm moving to Sweden soon, so my focus is going to shift quite a bit north, but there's plenty in the archives to keep a tourist busy in Vienna for a while.

All best to the Her Journey readers--and I'm hoping you make it to Vienna!

Kate Wiseman is an expat and a travel blogger.
You can find her blog at www.transatlanticsketches.com.
You can email her at kate@transatlanticsketches.com.
Questions, comments, and life advice welcome.

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