I’ve always wanted to go to Vienna, attracted by the music, the architecture, the history and of course the gigantic pretzels. Recently, I had that chance and took a slow train from Zürich to Vienna. The almost 8 hour ride in itself was an interesting one, traveling along the Swiss countryside, through the tiny country of Lichtenstein and over the snow capped Austrian alps.
Going in winter other than the cold, it was dark by 4pm, which was another thing to get used to. It would feel so late, but not even be close to dinner time. This completely messes with your desire to eat!
In Vienna, I started my day with a bus ride around the city centre, just to get a bit of a handle on the layout before adventuring out into the city. What caught my attention right away was the stunning architecture and the prolific number of buildings of the same period. In many old cities, you get a few really amazing historic buildings. However, in Vienna, it’s absolutely covered in them. There’s nothing more stunning than seeing street after street of amazingly designed buildings and churches that have been well-maintained over centuries.
These classic stylings are contrasted with gritty punk style graffiti plastered over the underpasses and bridges around town as well as the stunning modern high rises bathed in glass. After a lap around town, I found myself at the Opera House. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go to the opera, but that’s definitely on my to do list for next time around. From the Opera House, my next stop was the Schönbrunn Palace. The moment I walked through the gates, I was stunned! This was the most impressive palace I’d ever seen.
The Schönbrunn Palace was built in the 17th Century and was designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and became the imperial palace for the Austrian kings who also had a successive reign as Holy Roman Emperor until the position and title was dissolved in 1806. Whilst I won’t go into all the historic details of the Holy Roman Empire and its emperors, needless to say, it was often a poison challis at odds and in conflict with the Pope and all his cronies. Such an important position however, require an important house and Schönbrunn is certainly a house suitable for an emperor. It was even nice enough for Napoleon in which to take up residence for a little bit when he was invading all of Europe. Had he stayed and not tried to invade Russia, the world might be very different today.
From the later Middle Ages, right through till the beginning of WWI, Austria was a military power house and one of the strongest central powers in Europe. However, it wasn’t just the military power for which Vienna was a hub. Due to the wealth that came with empire and trade, the Austrian emperors used a significant amount of this wealth to promote the arts. Mozart was a favourite of Empress Maria Theresa who discovered his talent and helped to promote it by putting him on a retainer. However, as you can see from the architecture throughout Vienna, art, design and culture have been a vitally important part of life in the city.
Inside the Palace itself, the walls, ceilings and floors are designed and painted in the most intricate and bold way. No doubt much of it was to impress guests coming to the Palace for functions, but regardless of the motives, it’s left an amazing legacy for the world. Without such patronage, countless musicians and artists would never have been able to follow their dreams. Instead they would have had to get boring awful jobs sweeping muck off the pavement, as flushing toilets had yet to be invented.
Since you weren’t allowed to take photos, you just have to go there yourself to see how stunning this Palace really is. The high ceilings, the grandeur of the dining rooms and bedrooms and the sheer scale of the structure is mind blowing. However, the room in which Mozart played his first concert is quite humble in comparison.
Outside the Palace, the gardens are extensive and you could spend a whole day just walking up and down the immaculately kept grounds. There’s even a zoo next door and some amazing greenhouses with exotic tropical and desert plants and wildlife.
Even though the Schönbrunn is the grandest of the palaces in Vienna, it’s actually just one of many. Although quite impractical as houses these days, various other palaces have been turned into museums and galleries which house some of the most stunning artworks I’ve ever seen. The Belvedere Palace (which is closer to the centre of Vienna) has an amazing art collection, including works by Klimt and Van Gogh. No matter how I describe these works, it will never do justice to actually seeing them yourself. This is really the key point to any place which has cultural experiences different from your own. Without going there and experiencing it for yourself, you can never truly understand the history, the lives that were lived and the amazing talent that artists, designers and musicians brought to the culture of a nation that has out lasted centuries of turmoil, war and everything else that goes with the human condition.
For me, I only scratched the surface of what Vienna had to offer, but if you want a truly unique and amazing experience of history, art and music, then Vienna is the place to go. It’s worth doing a bit of reading up beforehand to give you a greater picture and context of how and why Austria became such an important central power in Europe, but well worth the time as once you have this context, everything else makes far more sense.